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Robert Gober (b. 1954)
Property from an Important American Collection 
Robert Gober (b. 1954)

Three Urinals

Details
Robert Gober (b. 1954)
Three Urinals
signed, titled and dated 'ROBERT GOBER 1988 'THREE URINALS'' (on the underside of one element); titled again and dated again ''THREE URINALS' 1988' (on the underside of another element)
three elements - enamel, plaster, wire, lath and wood
each: 21 3/4 x 15 1/2 x 14 in. (55.2 x 39.3 x 35.5 cm.)
(3)Executed in 1988.
Provenance
303 Gallery, New York
Elaine and Werner Dannheisser, New York
Their sale; Christie's, New York, 7 May 1996, lot 35
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Literature
S. Evans, "Robert Gober/Christopher Wool: 303 Gallery," Artscribe International, November/December 1988, p. 80.
J. Rian, "Past Sense, Present Sense," Artscribe International, January/February 1989, pp. 60-65 (illustrated).
C. Leigh, “Home is Where the Heart is,” Flash Art, March/ April 1989, pp. 80-83 (illustrated).
M. P. Sherlock, “Arcadian Elegy: The Art of Robert Gober,” Arts Magazine, September 1989, pp. 44-49.
Gober, Halley, Kessler, Wool: Four Artists from New York, exh. cat., Munich, Kunstverein München, 1989.
Culture and Commentary: An Eighties Perspective, exh. cat., Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, 1990, pp. 62-67 and 81 (illustrated).
K. Honnef, Contemporary Art, Cologne, 1990.
W. Lippert, “Von Gewisper der Bilder," Jahresing 37, November 1990, pp. 72 (illustrated).
J. Siegel, "Uncanny Repetition: Sherrie Levine's Multiple Originals," ARTS Magazine, September 1991, pp. 31-35 (illustrated).
D. Cameron, “Robert Gober,” Galeries Magazine, October-November 1991, p. 92 (illustrated).
H-P. Schwerfel, “Collectionneurs au bord de la piscine,” Beaux Arts, October 1991, pp. 90-91(illustrated).
“Three One-Man Exhibitions Open at Paris’ Jeu de Paume," The Journal of Art, November 1991, p. 15 (illustrated).
S. Muchnic, “An American Foot in the Door," Los Angeles Times, 17 November 1991, pp. 85-86.
A. Cueff, Le Lieu de L'oeuvre: Bustamante, Gober, Klingelhöller, Mucha, Schütte, Vercruysse, Kunsthalle Bern, 1992, p. 67 (illustrated).
Y. V. Caldenborgh and M. Roesink, A Collection Made in the U.S.A., Rotterdam, 1993.
D. Ottinger, "Ne Dites Jamais: 'Fontaine...'," Omnibus Gazette Trimestrielle Sur L'Art Contemporain #7, October 1993 (illustrated).
C. Vogel, "Art World is not Amused by Critique," The New York Times, 4 October 1993, pp. C13 and C15.
M. A. Lipton and S. Carswell, "Rogues' Gallery?," People Magazine, 29 November 1993, pp. 67-68.
K. Kozik, "Robert Gober," Vytvarné Umení, The Magazine for Contemporary Art, Prague, January-February 1995, pp. 68 (illustrated).
Rites of Passage: Art for the End of the Century, exh. cat., London, Tate Gallery, 1995.
C. Vespereny, "Move Over Jackie!," The New York Post, 4 May 1996, p. 36 (illustrated).
C. Vogel, "Contemporary Art Bounces Back," The New York Times, 8 May 1996, p. C20.
S. Melikian, "Contemporary Art Tumbles", International Herald Tribune, May 11, 1996, p. 7.
The Age of Modernism - Art in the 20th Century, exh. cat., Berlin, Martin-Gropius-Bau, 1997, pp. 311, 410-411, 420, 439 and 599.
Robert Gober, exh. cat., Los Angeles, The Geffen Contemporary, Museum of Contemporary Art, 1997, p. 61 (illustrated).
Christopher Wool, exh. cat., Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, 1998, pp. 42-43 and 181 (illustrated).
M. Kessler, Les Antinomies De L'art Contemporain, Paris, 1999, p. 161 (illustrated).
H. Foster, "An Art of Missing Parts", October, Spring 2000, p. 143 (illustrated).
A. Braun, Robert Gober - Werke von 1976 bis heute, Nürnberg, 2003, pp. 70 and 86 (illustrated).
M. Buskirk, The Contingent Object of Contemporary Art, Cambridge, 2003, p. 63 (illustrated).
H. Foster, Prosthetic Gods, Cambridge, 2004, p. 324 (illustrated).
Kara Tanaka: A Sad Bit of Fruit, Pickled in the Vinegar of Grief, exh. cat., Reggio Emilia, Collezione Maramotti, 2010.
Exhibited
New York, 303 Gallery, A Project: Robert Gober and Christopher Wool, April 1988, p.4 (illustrated).
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Horn of Plenty: Sixteen Artists from NYC, January-February 1989, p. 11 (illustrated on the back cover).
Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen and Kunsthalle Bern, Robert Gober, May-October 1990, p. 73 (illustrated).
Tokyo, Touko Museum of Contemporary Art, Strange Abstraction, June-August 1991, p. 24, no. 4 (illustrated).
Paris, Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume and Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro d'Arte Reina Sofía, Robert Gober, October 1991-March 1992, p. 49 (illustrated).
Schaulager Basel, Robert Gober: Sculptures and Installations 1979-2007, May-October 2007, pp. 198-199, 201 and 247 (illustrated in color).
Post Lot Text
Currently the subject of a major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Robert Gober is an artist whose powerful installation Three Urinals has become an iconic evocation of the artistic dialogue that occurred in the 1980s, which encompassed what it meant to be an artist in the latter part of the 20th century. Building on Duchamp’s groundbreaking concept of the readymade, Gober’s work recontextualizes the idea behind what constitutes art and attempts to reintroduce the notion of the artist’s hand after several generations tried to eradicate it. Unlike Duchamp, who made art of mass-produced objects, Gober takes the form of a factory produced object and reconstructs it by hand, thereby reasserting his (and by default) the artist’s hand in these objects. First exhibited in the fabled 1988 exhibition A Project: Robert Gober and Christopher Wool at the 303 Gallery in New York (where it faced Wool’s iconic painting Apocalypse Now), Three Urinals has become a powerful and evocative reminder of one of the most stimulating periods of recent artistic endeavor.

Though the purity of its form is almost Minimalist in its reduction, the hand-made quality of Three Urinals contradicts its formal austerity and Minimal coolness. Meticulously crafted by the artist, this work is composed of the humblest materials—plaster, wire, wood and enamel paint—in striking contrast to its real-life porcelain counterpart. The smooth contours 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. Lined up at regulation height directly onto the surface of the wall, Three Urinals celebrates the prosaic nature of the objects they purport to mimic. Except, on closer examination, this striking triptych is far removed from the ubiquitous sanitary ware on which they are based. This object is resolutely handmade, carefully constructed with a human quality and reinforcing the artist’s search for meaning in form and content rather than the artworld stratergizing that is associated with Duchamp’s readymades.

The stark surfaces of Three Urinals has often meant Gober’s work has been erroneously linked to the residual forces of Minimalism that lingered from the previous decade. But scholars and critics have pointed out that Gober’s work is more a reaction to the clean lines and industrial fabrication than a celebration of it. As Elizabeth Sussman points out. “They are in fact sensuous, glowing, and tactile, combining the tactility of painting and ceramics, and they are completely unlike the works to which they might be compared: the hard industrially manufactured surfaces of either Duchamp’s urinal or of the abstracted forms sent out for fabrication by, say, Donald Judd… To get what Gober wanted meant making it, piece by piece, from the bottom up. Only that activity would yield a specific, recognizable thing, related deeply to everyday life, yet uncannily possessing something unknown, perhaps unexpected, that would appear somehow in the activity of making. To make things meant bringing them to the precipitous brink between the real and the strange” (E. Sussman, “Robert Gober: Installation and Sculpture,” in T. Vischer (ed.), Robert Gober: Sculpture and Installations 1979-2007, exh. cat., Schaulager Basel, 2007, p. 19).

By placing Three Urinals in the gallery space, Gober also challenges the boundaries of what we regard as public and private space. His earlier Sinks (produced in 1984) recalled the private space of the domestic kitchen, something he remembered from his own childhood. Here, the public bathroom evokes the arena of his adulthood, which was particularly poignant during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. “These life-size urinals, with their successive placement and lack of exposed plumbing, seemed perfectly normal but for the fact that they are placed on the gallery wall. While the Three Urinals appeared truer to their models than either Gober’s plumbing-less sinks or skewed cribs, this ‘truth’ to the paradigm urinal in no way diminished their psychological resonance These objects evoked a feeling of extreme self-consciousness, even voyeurism, as the specters of washroom sex and male bonding rituals were bought to the fore” (S. Evans, “Robert Gober/Christopher Wool – 303 Gallery,” Artscribe International no. 72, November/December 1988, p. 80).

For Gober, his Sinks and Urinals seem to 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 the New York of the 1980s and 90s. If these objects stand as the modern repository for the elimination of dirt and waste, a modern convention of daily personal hygiene that renders a dirty body clean, then what do they 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).

As such, Three Urinals becomes a seminal early work that is a deeply personal expression of the artist’s most important concerns. Veiled in the guise of a seemingly prosaic object, it becomes 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 this work in a different category altogether, and, as such, it becomes one of the most engaging and thought-provoking works of the artist’s long career.

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Kevie Yang
Kevie Yang

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