Robert Gober

Galerie Max Hetzler

Recently Robert Gober’s sink was a favorite object of interpretation, a thing that offered a new surface for projection and reference (Marcel Duchamp, Robert Morris, Donald Judd, to name merely the cornerstones). Exposure, disease, the unconscious, archetypes of culture, symbols of existence—all these have been read into the sink. What next? Nevertheless, Gober managed, in these exhibitions, to discard the notion that we are living in a stage of aftermath. He shows us a balancing act, and also states its necessity—cautiously and sincerely.

Most of Gober’s objects are handmade or at least visibly handworked, and executed in simple materials. At Galerie Max Hetzler he showed new objects in his repertoire: whitewashed door fragments, which, pressed against a wall, looked almost like reliefs; and a white, plaster-coated stool, which was here placed in the middle of the gallery space. White—a somewhat yellowish white—has a particular longevity in Gober’s work. Its origin—like that of the objects appearing in these exhibitions—is artificial, imaginary, fictitious; at the same time, the origin seems somehow ancient. Gober objects may be brand-new, but they look old—the doors, the stool, even the gigantic dog basket in a corner of the gallery. Each of the objects has a touch of the absurd, as defined by Eva Hesse. Her relation to Pop art and Minimal art is paralleled by Gober’s relation to appropriation art and neo-geo. Gober himself stands in the space, as an artist, as a figure, who consciously tries to unite inside and outside; he seeks to connect common attractions—such as certain basic object forms, with their own internal histories—to a larger social process. At first, Gober’s work always looks easy, almost playful. One is tempted to underestimate it, because it does not have the manifest character and splendor of the brand-new. But then its kick is all the more powerful.

The Galerie Gisela Capitain showed Gober’s paintings and drawings on textiles. His approach here is Warholesque; the subjects are mostly flowers. These are small, sad, delicate cloth rags, testifying to something dead. Gober’s objects are modest, yet proud in their morbidity; they are hand-made art fetishes aimed at a truly all-encompassing fatalism. Their goal is not respect or love; what the results of their efforts could be is the development of the artwork as a projection surface. Gober clarifies and demonstrates how complicated this surface is, how scarred and pitted, how macabre and uneven.

He tells about the things that get lost en route. In The Dress, 1987, sewn by Gober and printed by Christopher Wool, one sees the object—the dress—without the girl. What’s going on here, a comedy or a tragedy? Here we have the hanged or hung dress of an invisible girl. Is she naked, the bride stripped bare by her bachelors, even? Is the girl dead? Or is this merely a stray piece of dress that has wafted over, having endured a lot, but still frail? For Gober, that is the status of art itself.

Jutta Koether

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.