Details
Robert Gober (B. 1954)
Untitled
signed, titled and dated 'Robert Gober 1990 Untitled' (on the reverse)
beeswax, wood, oil and human hair
18 7/8 x 14 3/4 x 7 1/2 in. (47.9 x 37.5 x 19 cm.)
Executed in 1990.
Provenance
Paula Cooper Gallery, New York
Galeria Marga Paz, Madrid
Tubacex Collection, Bilbao
Anon. sale; Christie's, London, 24 June 1993, lot 98
Klinger Foundation, London
Paula Cooper Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1996
Literature
A.-H. Francois, “Robert Gober,” Voir, December 1991-January 1992, p. 25 (illustrated).
N. Bourriaud, "Spotlight: Robert Gober, Clues to Finding the Body," Flash Art, v. XXV, no. 162, January-February 1992, p. 123 (installation view illustrated in color).
E. Troncy, “Paris Switch Points/Robert Gober Jeu de Paume," Artscribe, issue 90, February/March 1992, p. 86 (installation view illustrated in color).
The Last Days, exh. cat., Seville, Pabello´n de Espan~a, 1992, p. 114 (illustrated).
DOCUMENTA IX, exh. cat., Kassel, Documenta, 1992, pp. 198-199 (installation view illustrated in color).
B. Sewell, "Penile Dementia," The Daily Standard, 4 March 1993 (illustrated).
"If You Go Down to the Park Today...," The Daily Telegraph, 11 March 1993.
M. O'Flaherty, "Blinds Come Down for Off-the-Wall Privates on Parade," Daily Express, 12 March 1993 (illustrated).
P. Johnson, "This Ugly Blot on a Glorious Landscape: A Bizzare and Unpleasant Intrusion That's Spoiling the Beauty of Spring," The Daily Mail, 13 March 1993.
S. Kent, “UnAmerican Dreams,” Time Out London, 17-24 March 1993, pp. 18-19 (illustrated).
T. Hilton, “To Wow or Not to Wow?”, The Independent, 21 March 1993 (illustrated).
W. Feaver, “Of Couples and Their Cat Litter,” The Observer, 21 March 1993 (illustrated).
A. Graham-Dixon, “Insulated from the Shock of Reason, Andrew Graham-Dixon on some masterpieces of English outrage," The Independent, 23 March 1993 (illustrated).
W. Packer, “Morbid Modern Message,” The Financial Times, 23 March 1993 (illustrated).
J. McEwen, “Dreams Down the Plughole,” The Sunday Telegraph, 28 March 1993.
"Gober the Top," Esquire, April 1993 (illustrated).
S. Morgan, "Robert Gober," Art Monthly, April 1993, p. 21.
B. Sewall, “As You Like It,” Il Giornale Dell’Arte, May 1993, p. 29 (illustrated).
"Robert Gober," Liverpool: Scene, June 1993, p. 6.
A. Brighton, "Exhibitions: Robert Gober," Modern Painters, Summer 1993, p. 102.
E. Cooper, "The Waste of Lives: Art Reviewed by Emmanuel Cooper," Gay Times, August 1993.
M. Agassi, "The Incredible Mystery of Robert Gober," Studio: Israeli Art Magazine, no. 47, October-November 1993, p. 28 (illustrated).
K.K. Kozik, "Robert Gober", Vytvarné Umení, The Magazine for Contemporary Art, Prague, January-February 1995, p. 72 (installation view illustrated).
Rites of Passage: Art for the End of the Century, exh. cat., London, Tate Gallery, 1995, p. 97.
Passions Privées: Collections particulières d'art moderne et contemporain en France, exh. cat., Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 1995, pp. 647-648 (installation view illustrated).
Robert Gober, exh. cat., Umag, Galerija Dante Marino Cettina, 1995, pp. 9-15 and 36.
Carnegie International 1995, exh. cat., Pittsburgh, Carnegie Museum of Art, 1995, p. 86.
René Magritte: Die Kunst der Konversation: Marcel Broodthaers, Joseph Kosuth, Barbara Bloom, Robert Gober, Sturtevant, exh. cat., Düsseldorf, Nordrhein-Westfalen, 1996, pp. 224 (illustrated).
Apocalyptic Wallpaper: Robert Gober, Abigail Lane, Virgil Marti and Andy Warhol, Columbus, Wexner Center for the Arts, Ohio State University, 1997, pp. 17-18 (installation view illustrated).
"Special Feature: Installation," BT Monthly Art Magazine, November 1997, pp. 40-41 (illustrated).
Robert Gober, exh. cat., Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, 1997, pp. 58 and 63 (installation view illustrated in color).
Robert Gober: Sculpture + Drawing, exh. cat., Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, 1999, pp. 20 and 125-126 (installation view illustrated in color).
J. Reginato, "The Art of Living," W Magazine, March 2000, p. 505 (illustrated).
H. Foster, "An Art of Missing Parts," October, no. 92, Spring 2000, pp. 148-149 (installation view illustrated in color).
G. Garrels, "Robert Gober un Américain à Venise," Art Press, June 2001, pp. 52-57 (illustrated).
1, place de la Concorde, exh. cat., Paris, Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume, 2004, p. 27 (installation view illustrated in color).
H. Foster, Prosthetic Gods, Cambridge, 2004, pp. 306 and 331, fig. 8.18 (installation view illustrated).
J. Collins, Sculpture Today, New York, 2007, p. 63.
T. Vischer, ed., Robert Gober: Sculptures and Installations 1979-2007, Basel, 2007, pp. 280-281, no. S1990.21 (installation view illustrated in color).
Walls Are Talking: Wallpaper, Art and Culture, exh. cat., Manchester, Whitworth Art Gallery, 2010, p. 38, no. 28 (installation view illustrated in color).
R. Smith, “The In-Crowd Is All Here: ‘Regarding Warhol’ at the Metropolitan Museum,” The New York Times, 14 September 2012, p. C23.
Robert Gober: The Heart is Not a Metaphor, exh. cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, 2014, pp. 171 and 257 (installation view illustrated in color).
Exhibited
Madrid, Galería Marga Paz, Robert Gober, November-December 1990.
Berlin, Martin Gropius-Bau, Metropolis: Internationale Kunstausstellung Berlin, April-July 1991, p. 137, no. 56 (incorrectly illustrated).
Paris, Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume and Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Robert Gober, October 1991-March 1992, pp. 8, 23, 61, 77 and 81, no. 10 (illustrated in color and installation view illustrated on the inside front cover).
Cambridge, MIT List Visual Arts Center, Corporal Politics, December 1992-February 1993, p. 42 (illustrated in color).
London, Serpentine Gallery and Tate Gallery Liverpool, Robert Gober, March-August 1993, pp. 13, 24 and 34-35 (installation view illustrated in color).
New York, C&M Arts, Naked Since 1950, October-December 2001, n.p., no. 31 (illustrated in color).
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art and Pittsburgh, Andy Warhol Museum, Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years, September 2012-April 2013, pp. 88, 93 and 290, no. 73 (illustrated in color).

Brought to you by

Sara Friedlander
Sara Friedlander

Lot Essay

One of Robert Gober’s most striking works, his wax sculpture of part of a man’s body imprinted with a musical score, might at first seem to be an unusual combination of two seemingly unrelated motifs. Yet in Gober’s hands, Untitled is a carefully composed work that connects to one of the most recognizable paintings in the history of art. Gober looked to Hieronymus Bosch’s masterpiece The Garden of Earthly Delights (Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid) to find inspiration for this work. Located within the third panel of this Northern Renaissance triptych (the panel that depicts Hell) is what appears to be a cello combined with a harp crushing a human figure; the naked bottom half of a man sticks out from beneath, his rear bearing a musical score. That Gober found this particular detail, a tiny passage amongst a swirly cloud of bizarre and otherworldly imagery, speaks to his attentiveness as an astute observer and connoisseur of art. A highly symbolic treatise on morality, Bosch’s imagery can be interpreted as the punishment that awaits those who overly partake in the momentary pleasures of the world and the body—including an indulgence in music, drink and sex—at the expense of nurturing their soul. Untitled was executed in 1990, at the height of the AIDS crisis, at a time when moral rhetoric parallelled the moralism of Bosch’s painting. However, Gober chose this imagery not to participate in the damnation, but as a recuperative measure, as “a song to be sung to the image of a man, or it was the expression of music emanating or humming from inside a man’s body’’ (R. Gober, quoted in T. Vischer, Robert Gober: Sculptures and Installations, 1979-2007, exh. cat. Basel, 2007, p. 278).

As is common with much of Gober’s sculpture, the process of its execution is a long and painstaking one. “Months before, I had picked up out of the gutter on East 8th Street a discarded piece of sheet music,” he says. “I liked it because it was groups of notes ascending the scale. It looked like full, optimistic music. I didn’t transcribe the music as it was written on to the man, I took pieces and collaged it” (Ibid.). After using a friend to carefully make a cast of the buttocks, he casts the sculpture in wax, giving it a soft, flesh-like texture. Individual lengths of human hair have been embedded into the surface one-by-one to give the fragmented figure a life-like appearance. In this way, Gober connects Untitled to a long history of the figurative sculpture; beginning with Greek statuary that has been fragmented over time to commercial mannequins used to display clothes, wax figures in museum dioramas, and Marcel Duchamp’s Étant donnés, 1946–1966 (Philadelphia Museum of Art)—itself a kind of diorama that displays a life-sized replica of a woman’s body, abandoned in an overrun field that is viewable only through a peephole. Robert Gober spoke to his decisions to engage with the wax figure: “I got the idea while flying in a small plane in Europe. I had been in Bern and gone to see the Natural History Museum and it struck me as odd that contemporary people were omitted from the dioramas. Then, I’m on a small tightly packed commuter plane and across the aisle from me is this handsome business man with his legs crossed. His sock didn’t meet his pants on his crossed leg and I was transfixed by this hairy bit of leg. It seemed so vulnerable and exposed but an odd moment to make sculpture of” (R. Gober, ibid., p. 255).

Gober’s Untitled relates to another work, one that replicates Bosch’s image in full by including the entire lower half of the body. Like Duchamp’s Étant donnés, Gober situated the work in a diorama-like setting that placed the half-figure abutting a wall, papered with an image of a tense thicket of trees as if the fragmented body were lost in this imaginary forest, which, in turn, heightened the traumatic aspects of the sculpture. The eminent art historian Hal Foster elaborates on Gober’s relationship to Duchamp: “In terms of precedents one thinks first of Duchamp, but Gober queers his reception in significant ways. Unlike many contemporaries, Gober does not focus on the model of the readymade, which can query the relation between artwork and commodity. In fact, he almost opposes this model, not only because he fabricates his objects, but because Duchamp intended ‘complete anaesthesia,’ while Gober explores traumatic affect. Instead, Gober adapts another Duchampian model, the cast body part, which can query the relation between artwork and sexual drive. Like Duchamp, he sees cognition as sensual ... but this cognition is different for Gober because the desires are different. Hence, instead of the “female fig leafs” and “wedges of chastity” of Duchamp, Gober offers casts of musical male butts and colossal butter sticks … [and] offers such homoerotic relics as his candle seeded with human hair. Nevertheless, the affinity with Duchamp and Giacometti is clear, and it rests in a shared fascination with enigma and desire-with the enigma of desire, the desire in enigma” (H. Foster, “An Art of Missing Parts,” October 92, Spring 2000, p. 141).

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