Robert Gober



Not on display

Robert Gober born 1954
Lithograph on paper
Image: 760 × 982 mm
Presented by the American Fund for the Tate Gallery 2000


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 forty-seven, of which this print is number eight. The print, which combines the use of lithography, screenprinting and hand-drawing, depicts a small, barred window set high up in the wall of a prison cell. The window is square with three bars and its depth indicates the thickness of the wall. The enclosed space of the cell is represented with a minimum of means, the conjunction of wall and floor indicated by a simple horizontal line. A cloudless and unattainable blue sky is visible beyond the bars. On the wall near the floor, one can just identify the traces of an erased image of a power point. It seems to have been superseded by a clearly delineated and identical power outlet which appears alongside its faint counterpart.

Untitled invites comparison with Gober's 1992 installation at the DIA Center for the Arts in New York. The main room in the installation, Untitled, enveloped the viewer in a trompe l'oeil woodlands scene. Large sinks were attached to the walls at regular intervals, their open taps providing a relentless sound track of rushing water. Bundles of replica newspapers were stacked on the floor, alongside facsimiles of boxes of rat poison. This tainted paradise was, however, also a prison: four small, high windows with bars were set into the gallery walls. Donald Kuspit comments on the social statement Gober makes with this work: 'Whatever way we turn, he seems to be saying, we're doomed, though we try to delude ourselves we're in the Garden. For death - in the form of the invisible rats, the pollution in the water, the banal, superficial look of things, which suggests they lack real being - is also in Arcadia. Gober, a slick Poussin, is spelling out our crimes against nature and against ourselves.' (Donald Kuspit, 'The End of the World has Already Happened: Robert Gober', Artforum, vol.31, February 1993, pp.91-3.)

Gober's use of prison bars in the Untitled 2000 lithograph also recalls the sense of entrapment and enclosure conveyed by his traumatic cribs and playpens. Known primarily as a sculptor and installation artist whose reconfigured domestic artefacts result in hauntingly beautiful yet disturbing works of art, Gober has frequently returned to the iconography of these barred environments of infancy. Often precariously listing to one side, or rendered dysfunctional in other ways, Gober strips these homely objects of their usual associations with innocent domesticity. Rather, they embody anxiety and threat by focusing attention on their function of restraint.

The psychologically charged familial home of one's infancy haunts Gober's work. He reveals it to be a site of trauma and restraint. Gober repeatedly exploits the iconography of confinement in this context, suggesting that repressive ideologies are at the heart of mainstream family values. His prison windows add emphasis to the earlier cribs and playpens. As one commentator puts it: 'you can't help but think about the crib without knowing that after the crib came the prison windows.' (Richard Flood, Robert Gober: Sculpture + Drawing, p.133.)

Further reading:
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.

Helen Delaney
January 2002

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