View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
Untitled is one of a set of three lithographs produced by Robert Gober in 2000 during his first collaboration with the Los Angeles print publisher, Gemini G.E.L. It exists as part of an edition of fifty, of which this print is number eight. The print depicts an excerpt from a dictionary and connects unrelated words by drawing attention to their immediate proximity in a dictionary. Thus a connection is constructed between the definitions of the words 'betray' and 'betroth', reversing a possible narrative order by proposing betrayal as the foundation for commitment and an intimate relationship. This lithograph represents a considerable technical achievement because rather than mechanically transferring the words from the dictionary, Gober drew directly onto the limestone, reproducing the words in reverse as required by the lithographic medium.
Gober has used appropriated text several times over the last decade. The first was his Untitled 1991 edition for Parkett magazine of a single page from the New York Times. Dated 4 October 1960, the page is dominated by a selection of wedding announcements that are stereotypically euphoric and accompanied by smiling portrait photographs of the various happy couples. A small article in the right-hand column reports the death of a six-year-old Robert Gober by drowning in a paddling pool. The article also reveals that his mother was being detained by the police for further questioning. As one commentator has written: 'the inclusion of this decoy article casts suspicion on the institution of marriage as purveyed by the press. Against the image of sanctified bliss that marriage evokes there is the 'reality' of child abuse and neglect that lurks beneath the surface of a regular American family.' (Frances Morris, Rites of Passage, p.98.) Gober's lithograph similarly casts suspicion on marriage, the apotheosis of socially approved, heterosexual relations. He implies that there is something fraudulent at the heart of mainstream, so-called 'family values'.
Almost all of Gober's work refers, however obliquely, to domesticity, childhood or sexuality. He is known primarily as a sculptor and installation artist whose reconfigured domestic artefacts, such as sinks, urinals, playpens and cots, result in hauntingly beautiful yet disturbing works of art. The homeliness of these objects belies their dysfunctional realisation. For example, Gober's highly stylised sinks and urinals frequently have no plumbing pipes or drains, and so embody a kind of idealized abnormality. In Untitled, Gober continues to invoke the celebrated world of domestic bliss while implying that it is a fragile social construct, troubled by flimsy foundations.
Rites of Passage, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1995.
Robert Gober, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery and Serpentine Gallery, London 1993.
Robert Gober: Sculpture + Drawing, exhibition catalogue, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis 1999.