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Gober, Robert (b. 1954)  
 
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A good friend was dying of AIDS at the time Gober was fabricating Subconscious Sink at the very beginning of the epidemic. The sink suggests cleansing rituals, although with no running water there is no ability to wash clean or purify. In this regard, a font of Holy Water comes to mind, but one disabled with no blessed water to sanctify--not an implausible association given Gober's Catholic background and the emergence in the 1990s of overt religious imagery in his work.

The artist's Catholicism, although lapsed, is the basis for a genuine spiritual dimension of his art, most especially as set in uneasy alliance with Gober's homosexuality.

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Although he invokes the human body through its absence in his domestic objects, triggers of both troubled and consoling childhood memories, Gober began to present the human figure in a series of beeswax casts in 1989. At this time, he also began to present his objects and figures as interrelated and component parts in art installations, orchestrating them into a single work of art in the site-specific spaces of a gallery.

Gober's figures are body fragments: a leg, the lower portion of the body, an armless torso, but never the head. They are often casts of his own physical self, which serves to personalize and make intimate the work of art, which is also made by Gober's own hand. They can be dual in gender, and by their severed nature they imply violence.

Untitled (1990) is the upright, stuffed-pillow torso of a figure with the breasts of a woman and the hairy stomach of a man, Gober's unsettling visualization of the two-fold nature of his identity and, by extension, ours.

Untitled (1991) is a beeswax cast of a male body from the waist down. Prone on the floor, the figure is flush with the wall, seemingly extending from it and shoved partially out of sight. It is shod in soiled white sneakers and sports socks and wears a pair of white briefs. Each hairy leg--stitched with the artist's own hair--is embedded with several circular metal drains.

The figure is erotic and deeply disturbing. As the buttocks provocatively face up, inviting anal intercourse, the drains advance this association and call to mind conflicting images of water cleansing and the disfiguring lesions of Kaposi Sarcoma, the opportunistic cancer that often afflicts gay men suffering from AIDS. In another similar figure, the drains are replaced with lighted candles that endanger the figure and at the same time read as sacramental. Dualities lie at the core of Gober's art.

In 1992, Gober created a site-specific installation for the Dia Art Center in New York. He drew into this work the familiar motif of the white porcelain sink, although now with running water. New objects, here the barred cellblock window and a trompe l'oeil mural representation of a woodland scene, expanded the artist's personal iconography. Actual and facsimile newspapers, stacked in bundles, carried headlines and stories of oppressive sexual stereotyping, discrimination against gay men, premature deaths, and the AIDS epidemic. Gober offered another phrasing of thwarted and potential redemption in allusions to the natural and the unnatural, Paradise and Hell, and the trapped psyche and its potential release in nature.

Gober staged a large-scale installation in the Geffen Contemporary space of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 1997. Untitled (1997) had as its centerpiece a monumental Holy Mother cast in concrete. She is pierced through her stomach with a six-foot length of standard screw-ribbed culvert pipe, alluding to her role as a conduit to God and as the great empathizer for humankind's suffering.

With arms outspread in the protective attitude of the Madonna of Mercy, the Holy Mother stands on a large metal grate resembling a storm drain. To her side are two identical open leather suitcases, whose metal-grated bottoms allow the sight of an underground grotto with swirling water in brightly lighted tidal pools littered with coins, seaweed, and colorful shells. Through these grates, Gober's own cast lower legs appear, partially submerged to mid-thigh in water, supporting the dangling legs of a child.

Behind the Holy Mother is a doorway open to reveal a steep cedar staircase over which cascades a torrent of water spilling through a fourth open grate. Gober's chapel-like tableau, which plays upon a mix of personal and cultural symbols, is a metaphor for salvation, whose terms are purification and the transformative powers of love.

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