As a copy of a man’s leg and foot, this work is strikingly real: its fleshy waxen skin, clad in leather shoe and in cotton pant and sock, sprouts actual human hair. Exactness like this slides over into the unsettling, a macabre tone amplified by the leg’s placement, its owner having presumably collapsed to the floor—and then, too, he has only one leg, which issues from the wall, as if the architecture had eaten him. For some, it may also have a subtle fetishistic eroticism, inasmuch as it focuses on a narrow band of the body where men routinely and unselfconsciously show their nakedness.
Many of the artists who emerged alongside Gober in the 1980s were interested in the modern communications media, or in quoting from art history. Gober, by contrast, insists on the handmade quality of his sculpture, and although his works can remind us of earlier art (this one, for example, may recall the body fragments in the sculpture of Auguste Rodin, or the living disembodied arms bearing candelabra in Jean Cocteau’s film La Belle et la béte, of 1946), their mood of displaced normalcy transforms any such references. These works often evoke the paradoxical phenomenon that Sigmund Freud called “the uncanny”—something ordinary that, through even a slight disorientation, reveals a hidden strangeness, bringing out long-forgotten fears and collapsing long-established certainties.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999.