Robert Gober (B. 1954)
Robert Gober (B. 1954)


6 1/4 x 18 1/2 x 3 3/4 in. (15.9 x 47 x 9.5 cm.)
Paula Cooper Gallery, New York
Private collection, New York
Anon. sale; Christie's, New York, 16 May 2007, lot 64
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
D. Bonetti, "Weinberg Gallery Shows How it's Done," San Francisco Examiner, 6 April 1995, p. C3.
"News: St. Louis (Missouri), Altered States: American Art in the 90's," Flash Art, Summer 1995, p. 67 (another example illustrated).
G. M. Dault, "Chasing Truth Through The Looking Glass," The Globe and Mail, 6 June 1998, p. C14 (another example illustrated).
Robert Gober: Sculpture and Drawing, exh. cat., Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, 1999, pp. 18-20.
A. Braun, Robert Gober: Werke von 1976 bis heute, Nuremberg, 2003, p. 321 (another example illustrated).
B. Richardson, ed., A Robert Gober Lexicon, New York, Matthew Marks Gallery, 2005, pp. 22-23 (another example illustrated).
Magritte and Contemporary Art: The Treachery of Images, exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2006, p. 172.
T. Vischer, ed., Robert Gober: Sculptures and Installations 1979-2007, Basel, 2007, pp. 304-305, no. S1992.01 (illustrated in color).
San Francisco, Daniel Weinberg Gallery, Vija Celmins, Chuck Close, Joseph Cornell, Peter Cain, Steve Wolfe, Robert Gober & Richard Artschwager, March-April 1995 (another example exhibited).
St. Louis, Forum for Contemporary Art, Altered States: American Art in the 90s, March-May 1995, pp. 12 and 26 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
Museo de Arte de São Paulo, Das Américas, November-December 1995 (another example exhibited).
New York, Gagosian Gallery, The Human Body in Contemporary American Sculpture, February-March 1996 (another example exhibited).
Geneva, Musée d'art et d'histoire, Corps à vif: art et anatomie, June-September 1998 (another example exhibited).
Toronto, Ydessa Hendeles Art Foundation, Realities, June 1998-June 2000 (another example exhibited).
Melbourne International Festival of the Arts, RMIT Gallery, TheHeimlich/Unheimlich, October-November 2002, pp. 4-6 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
Aukland Art Gallery, Mixed Up Childhood, February-May 2005, pp. 66 and 139-140 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
Bilbao, Museo de Bellas Artes; Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Monterrey and Ishøj, ARKEN Museum of Modern Art, Reshaped Reality: 50 Years of Hyperrealistic Sculpture, June 2016-August 2017 (another example exhibited).


An exhibition copy outside of the edition is in the collection of the artist.

Excavating the rind of contemporary life, Robert Gober’s oeuvre is composed of ordinary objects that silently fill the viewer’s everyday existence—from yesterday’s newspaper to the forgotten bag of cat litter under the kitchen sink and the lonely shoe littering the sidewalk. Stripping away the prosaic aegis of the public sphere, Gober exposes the inequities and melancholy of present day society. Amongst the most poignant of all of Gober’s reoccurring motifs is the human leg. Created in 1992, Untitled explores the complex psychological associations and deeply-felt personal memories of the artist’s past, rendering it a hauntingly provocative relic from the era in which it was produced. Laying on floor like a forgotten toy, the tiny leg emanates from the wall like a strangely enigmatic presence from a dream. Both tender and mysterious, the small child’s leg is arresting in its precise verisimilitude—from the fine, delicate hairs on its muted skin to the worn quality of the leather sandal and sullied sock. Cast from the leg of a four year old boy, Gober painstakingly fabricated the sculpture by hand using wax and human hair. Though the work so closely mimics the effect of an actual human leg, the difference in encountering the cool, hardened wax of the sculpture versus the warmth of actual human skin produces a shocking contrast; it recalls the uncanny feeling that the Surrealists’ termed frisson—the unexpected, chill-producing effect that two seemingly illogical objects could produce when combined. Like Gober’s best works, Untitled ushers forth infinite associations, translated from the artist’s personal memories into the viewer’s own subconscious mind.

Having spent much of the 1980s working on his signature plaster sinks, Gober made a significant departure in 1989 when he began to explore the male body in a series of important works. In 1990 the artist created a provocative single leg sculpture cast from his own leg clad in trousers, a sock and shoe that proved to be the catalyst for his series of dislocated legs. The artist recalls the idea first came to him on his return from an important exhibition at the Kunsthalle Bern: “I got the idea while flying in a small plane in Europe,” he described. “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, quoted in T. Vischer, ed., Robert Gober: Sculpture and Installations, 1979-2007, exh. cat., Schaulager Basel, 2007, p. 255).

The series of male legs subsequently gave way to a highly prolific period of work in the early 1990s, during which Gober exhibited widely to critical acclaim. “I do remember feeling a great sense of relief when the leg sculpture began to take form in my studio because it opened a door,” he stated (Ibid.). Closely relating to personal memories from his own childhood, the small child’s leg casting in 1992 was especially significant to Gober. “My mother... used to entertain me as a child with tales from the operating room where she worked as a nurse before her children were born. Her very first operation was the amputation of a leg. The doctor turned and handed it to her and she didn’t know what to do” (Ibid.).

Always severed, or perhaps amputated from the body, the paraffin legs are (dis)placed and (re)located as appendages from the wall. By removing the leg from its natural context of the body in an act of replacement, Gober literally objectifies the body. These body-objects, rendered useless by act of the artist, defectively take on several layers of various meanings and metaphors, which admittedly escape even the artist himself. Are they evidence of a crime, a relic in homage, or a medical study? Though Gober’s sculptures might be compared to Duchamp’s readymades which made use of commercially-manufactured objects that the artist then elevated to the status of “High” art, Gober painstakingly crafts his own work by hand so that it is forever imbued with his own personal touch. Likewise, unlike Duchamp, Gober places his sculpted body parts directly on the floor: “Never on plinths or pedestals, the truncated bodies and legs lie directly on the floor or just off it, and they are placed up against the wall, as if they had emerged from it, or are trapped by it” (T. Vischer, ed., ibid., p. 25).

To fabricate the sculpture, Gober enlisted the help of a seamstress that he had periodically employed at his studio, Gayle Brown. Brown’s four year old son, Louis, was the chosen model for the project. His leg wrapped in a plaster cast, Louis spent hours watching movies in the artist’s 10th Street studio waiting for the plaster to set. Upon completion, melted wax was then poured into the mold, and human hair gently inserted into the warmed wax leg using a special tweezer-like tool that Gober and his assistants fabricated especially for this purpose. Gober hand sewed the sandals from leather and, on a whim, used pull-tabs from Budweiser beer cans for the sandal buckles and then distressed the shoes to illustrate the wear and tear that a young child would inevitably do to his shoes. The resulting sculpture is remarkably lifelike, and it belies the complicated, painstakingly hand-made process of its construction.

The striking verisimilitude of Untitled works in tandem with the personal history of Gober’s remembered childhood to heighten its visual impact. As the critic Hal Foster has pointed out, the sculpture functions as a sort of diorama in which Gober recreates a past event “in a hyper-real way.” Aspects of the remembered image are exaggerated in order to convey the image that much more forcefully (H. Foster, “An Art of Missing Parts,” October, Vol. 92, Spring 2000, p. 130). The leather sandal, sock and exacting details of the sculpture are all too familiar, too realistic and, all at once, the tableau that Gober creates is no longer benign but unsettling. The longer one views the alienated leg, the more associations arise. Where did this leg come from? Where is the child to which it belongs? Was he subject to some unnameable, violent act? The horror of these unknown possibilities haunt the work in a palpable way, which Gober accentuates by creating such a convincing facsimile of an actual leg. Like all of Gober’s sculptures, sex and sexuality lurk in the corner. However, there is always the chance that the leg is a fake, and part of a cruel joke devised by Gober himself. It is specifically this odd familiarity Freud described as the uncanny, that fuels Gober’s sculptures. Hal Foster writes: “More effectively than any other artist today Gober elaborates Surrealism’s aesthetic of convulsive identity and uncanny space” (Ibid., p. 133).

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