Robert Gober (b. 1954)
Property from the Estate of Anita Reiner
Robert Gober (b. 1954)

The Silent Sink

Robert Gober (b. 1954)
The Silent Sink
signed, titled and dated 'R. Gober '84 "The Silent Sink"' (on the reverse)
plaster, wire lath, wood and semi-gloss enamel paint
20 x 35 x 27 in. (50.8 x 88.9 x 68.5 cm.)
Executed in 1984.
Paula Cooper Gallery, New York
Daniel Weinberg Gallery, Los Angeles
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1987
Robert Gober, exh. cat., Boymans van-Beuningen, Rotterdam, 1990, p. 53 (illustrated).
A. Guasch, El Arte Ultimo de Siglo XX: Del Postminimalismo a lo multicultural, Madrid, 2000, p. 511.
L. Norden, "Best of 2007: Robert Gober: Schaulager, Basel," Artforum, December 2007, p. 344 (illustrated in color).
Los Angeles, Daniel Weinberg Gallery, Robert Gober, February-March 1985.
Basel, Schaulager, Robert Gober, Work 1976-2007, May-October 2007, p. 62 and 78-79 (illustrated).
Sale room notice
Please note that this work has been requested for inclusion in the forthcoming exhibition, The Heart is Not a Metaphor, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, October 2014 - January 2015.

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Sandra Sublett
Sandra Sublett

Lot Essay

Created in 1984, The Silent Sink is an important, early example of Robert Gober's most significant body of work, the sinks that he fabricated in New York between 1984 and 1986. Imbued with personal associations and remembrances, Gober's Sinks are some of the most engaging and thought-provoking works of his career. While Gober has produced many variations of his signature sink-many of them in museum collections-each one is unique, displaying the idiosyncrasies of their meticulous, handmade construction. Haunting in its spare, reductivist simplicity, The Silent Sink issues forth from the gallery wall like a ghostly sentinel, as if conjured directly from the artist's subconscious mind. Devoid of the utilitarian attributes that would allow it to function, like faucets and plumbing, The Silent Sink is rendered impractical, a truly "silent" sink.

Robert Gober's fascination with the domestic trappings of the family home began to emerge in the 1970s while he was building and selling miniature dollhouses. In 1983, he made his first sculpture of a sink, titled The Small Sink, which was a rather rough, unrefined version of the sinks he would begin in earnest in 1984. For the most part, Gober's sinks are based on his childhood memories. He vividly recalled the porcelain washbasin from his grandparents' home and a nearly identical version that his father had installed in his basement workshop. Gober recalls: "One of my earliest memories is of standing in front of the counter that held our kitchen sink. The top of my head was much lower than the height of the sink, where I would watch my mother for countless hours. I remember thinking that life would be different when I could see for myself the interior of the sink" (R. Gober, quoted in T. Vischer, (ed.), Robert Gober: Sculptures and Installations, 1979-2007, exh. cat., Schaulager Basel, 2007, p. 60).

Though the purity of its form is almost minimalist in its reduction, the hand-made quality of The Silent Sink contradicts its formal austerity and minimal coolness. Meticulously crafted by the artist, The Silent Sink is composed of the humblest of materials-plaster, wire, wood and enamel paint-in striking verisimilitude to its real-life porcelain counterpart. The softly curved contours of the sink invite the viewer's touch, and the sheen of all-white enamel perfectly mimics the cleanliness and rigor of porcelain. But the difference in encountering the warmth of plaster and wood versus the cold, unfeeling indifference of porcelain provides a striking contrast. It exudes the uncanny feeling that the Surrealists' termed frisson--the unexpected, chill-producing effect that two seemingly illogical objects could produce when combined.

The art historical precedent often cited in relation to Gober's work is Marcel Duchamp's La Fontaine, 1917. Yet unlike Duchamp's Readymades, there is a poignant, human quality imbued in The Silent Sink, not explicit but never far from the surface. Filtered through dreams and memories, Gober's sinks possess a lingering ghostly quality that call to mind the viewer's own desires and fears. There is a rather anthropomorphic quality that emanates from The Silent Sink as well. The rounded edges may suggest shoulders, whereas the small round drain may indicate a sexual orifice or asshole. Critics have likened the sinks as portraits of the artist, or alter-egos. In The Silent Sink, Gober further heightens the latent anxiety that permeates the sink-as-metaphor by denying it the most crucial element required for it to function: water.

In fact, water has been a powerful recurring symbol in the artist's work. Since childhood, Gober has been fascinated with water and retains pleasurable memories of going to the beach as a child and splashing in the water. While his early sinks of 1984-1986 were nonfunctioning, in 1992 he created a site-specific installation for the DIA Center for the Arts in New York, in which he reinvigorated the sink-as-motif, this time with running water pouring from the tap. Subsequent works in the following years evoked the myriad incarnations of water-from tide pools to bath tubs-and the symbolic power of water as both a purifier, signifying renewal and a destructive force, capable even of death. As an artist known for his embrace of binary opposites, Gober exploits the powerful associations that water can evoke.

For Gober, The Silent Sink seems to also symbolize the dialectical opposition of purification and bodily pollution, two key issues for a homosexual male artist raised in the strict doctrine of the Catholic Church who later witnessed the ravaging effect of HIV and AIDS in New York of the 1980s and 90s. If the sink stands as a modern repository for the elimination of dirt and waste, a modern convention of daily personal hygiene that renders a dirty body clean, then what does Gober's tapless, pipeless, "silent" sink signify? It seems to issue forth from some nightmarish dream, in which the dirty body can never be cleansed, and may point to the inability of the body's immune system to eradicate diseases like the AIDS virus from the body. Gober recalls:

"It seemed that every other day someone I knew or someone that a friend of mine knew was getting severely sick, really fast and most of them were gay men. Young men were dying all around me from causes unknown and the world seemed to be either in denial or revulsion. It was a situation that is very hard to recreate in words. So when I am asked to look back and 'explain' my sculptures of sinks, this situation reasserts itself. What do you do when you stand in front of a sink? You clean yourself. I seemed to be obsessed with making objects that embodied that broken promise" (R. Gober, quoted in T. Vischer, ibid, p. 60)

A seminal early work, The Silent Sink is a deeply personal expression of Robert Gober's most important concerns. Veiled in the guise of a seemingly prosaic object, The Silent Sink is a powerful talisman, capable of provoking our most hidden fears and desires. It is hauntingly beautiful in its simplicity, yet the complex issues that usher forth during the viewer's interaction truly place The Silent Sink in a different category altogether. It is one of the most engaging and thought-provoking works of Gober's career.

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