Here the lower half of a man’s body lies directly on the floor against a wall, truncated at the waist. The body’s ordinary attire—slacks, socks, and well-worn shoes—projects a realism that is upset by the wax candles that seem to grow from its legs. Gober had worked with this subject matter since 1989, when he made his first sculpture of a man’s leg; over the following two years, that initial form grew more complex.
This sculpture was created for a 1991 installation at a museum in Paris, where it extended from a wall papered with a kaleidoscopic forest scene. It was shown alongside two similar sculptures: wall-mounted naked buttocks printed with a musical score and another pair of legs clad in socks, sneakers, and underwear and punctured by multiple drains. Together the three works represented pleasure, disaster, and, in the present work, resuscitation, Gober has said. In that disquieting setting, the floor-bound sculptures resembled felled bodies—a particularly resonant form at the time, as the AIDS epidemic grew in ferocity, claiming thousands of lives.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
Gober is a contemporary heir of Surrealist artists such as René Magritte and Salvador Dalí, but his images, however bizarre, are quietly plainspoken. The individual components are ordinary, their combination is legible, and the details are precise. In this untitled work, the wax body, truncated at the waist, fits so flush against the wall that one imagines trunk, arms, and head on the other side. Gober has said that the group of body sculptures to which this belongs was inspired by animal dioramas in a natural-history museum—examples of figurative sculpture far removed from the Classical tradition. In them, reality (rather than the ideal) is the goal, as it is here—for example, in the hairs on the exposed skin and the well-worn soles of the figure’s shoes.
This sculpture was made for an installation at a museum in Paris, where it emerged from a wall papered with a forest scene. It was shown together with two similar sculptures, one with naked buttocks printed with a musical score and the other with clothed legs punctured by three drains—a trio of pleasure, disaster, and resuscitation, Gober has said. Removed from this theatrical setting, this sculpture is open to a wealth of diverse readings. Its realism is the departure point for broad avenues of symbolic and psychological meaning.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights since 1980, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2007, p. 95.