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Gober, Robert (b. 1954)  
 
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Sculptor Robert Gober is among only a few openly gay American artists to achieve an international reputation as one of the great artists of our time. Significantly, Gober's art proceeds from his sensibilities and experiences as a gay man.

In 2001, Gober represented the United States at the 49th Venice Biennale, the key international exhibition of modern and contemporary art since the beginning of the twentieth century. His haunting art, characterized by enigmatic dualisms, weaves together themes of childhood, sexuality, memory, loss, and spiritual redemption. In the artist's words: "Most of my sculptures have been memories remade, recombined, and filtered through my current experiences."

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Gober's art has its context in the concerns of gender, race, and ethnicity, often politicized, which marked much of the art of the later 1980s and 1990s. Yet, it is never didactic, the artist preferring to keep meaning open-ended through ambiguity and allusion. Gober's sculpture and installations, for which he is especially noted, carry a rich historical resonance that evokes the found objects of Dada, the dream narratives of Surrealism, and the reductive strategies of Minimalism.

Gober was born on September 12, 1954 in Wallingford, Connecticut and raised in a devout Catholic family. His father, a skilled tradesman, taught him early how to make things with his hands.

Gober knew he was gay when very young. Almost fifteen years old at the time of the Stonewall Riots in New York in 1969, he came of age when homosexual identity was becoming more open.

He took art classes in high school and went on in the early 1970s to study literature and fine art during his undergraduate years at Middlebury College in Vermont. He took his junior year abroad in Rome at the Tyler School of Art, a division of Temple University.

Gober settled in New York City in 1976 to begin a career as a painter. He initially earned his living as a carpenter, renovating lofts and building stretchers for artists. He worked as an assistant to the established American artist Elizabeth Murray, whose themes of domestic life would influence him. Gober's gifts as a skilled craftsman and his penchant for the handmade object would later be critical aspects of his art.

Gober's original ambition was to be a painter. His first solo exhibition in New York at the Paula Cooper Gallery in 1984 featured one work: Slides of a Changing Painting (1982-83). Eighty slides were projected in a sequence of dissolves on the gallery wall. They documented the history of Gober painting and repainting a small board over a period of a year, effectively creating a visual diary of the artist's inspiration, decisions, and revisions. The images included motifs such as an armchair, drainpipe, and human torso.

These subjects and the themes of memory and metamorphosis would remain central to Gober's art as it soon took sculptural form. From this point on, the artist's primary form of expression was sculpture, around which he would generate a voluminous number of drawings that received their first critical acknowledgement in an important exhibition at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 1999.

In 1984, Gober began to make handcrafted, everyday objects. Starting with a series of plumbing fixtures consisting of sinks, wash basins, and urinals (1984-86), which quickly established his reputation, he continued through the decade to produce, among other simulated objects, door sculptures, dog baskets, baby cribs, playpens, slip-covered armchairs, cast body fragments, and facsimile wallpapers, newspapers, and commercial box containers.

Gober meticulously made these objects with great attention to detail. At first they seem to be the actual manufactured commodity; yet, they are always handmade and altered in form. Their meanings, too, go well beyond the mundane. Gober called one category of these objects his "psychological furniture."

Gober made Subconscious Sink (1985) by coating plaster over wire lath and then covering it with semi-gloss white enamel paint to resemble porcelain. The splashboard is flattened and attenuated and split into a yoke. There are no faucets or drains, only a gaping hole. The sink is useless; yet in its grand scale, it is overpowering.

Although an innocent domestic object, the work raises larger issues suggested by its title and distorted form, and by how Gober has described it. He speaks of a recurring childhood dream of a room full of sinks with faucets open and water running. The odd form of the sink hints at the nightmarish and at domestic discord.

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