October 23, 2014  |  Artists, Collection & Exhibitions, Publications
Robert Gober in Time

Cover of Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor, published by The Museum of Modern Art

Cover of Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor, published by The Museum of Modern Art

Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor, published to accompany the artist’s retrospective at MoMA, is unconventional in a few ways. First, and most apparent, is its nontraditional size, resembling a thick novel more than the standard coffee table art book. The image on the cover is not an artwork by the artist, but a snapshot of him in Maine in 1996.  Seen from behind while mid-stride with a dog tagging along, he holds two casts of a leg, parts for his sculptures.

New Yorker writer Hilton Als authors the catalogue’s main essay, “I Don’t Remember,” which looks at Gober’s oeuvre through a personal and sociopolitical lens. An essay by curator Ann Temkin introduces his work, and an afterword by art conservator Christian Scheidemann explores his unique use of materials. The book’s chronology, written by assistant curator Paulina Pobocha, Gober’s archivist and registrar Claudia Carson, and Gober himself, paints a vivid picture of the artist’s life and career, including archival images, personal photos, and interviews with individuals close to Gober’s work.

Included below are selected excerpts from the chronology and images of Gober’s work.


 Summer: working alone, Gober continues to make sink sculptures in the studio on 7th Street. He begins each sink by drawing a cartoon on the wall before starting construction. The sinks are made of plywood and steel, covered in wire lath, plastered, then painted with Benjamin Moore Dulamel semigloss enamel paint straight from the can. “I was taken with [Frank] Stella’s black paintings. Still am.”

 September 8 – 29: Untitled Sink is included in a group exhibition at the Paula Cooper Gallery alongside work by Richard Artschwager, Jonathan Borofsky, Donald Judd, and David Salle.

 Robert Gober: I always imagined them hung in corporate boardrooms.


Gober makes his first leg sculpture, Untitled Leg. December 10: Gober participates in a “Stop the Church” demonstration organized by ACT UP at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. More than 5,000 gather to protest the Church’s public stand against homosexuality, condom distribution, safe-sex education in public schools, intravenous-drug users’ need for clean needles, and a woman’s right to choose.

The number of officially reported AIDS cases in the United States reaches 100,000. “But there were so many unreported cases,” Gober remembers. “The family of my friend Dan insisted that we never use the word. The story was he had died from tuberculosis.”


April 30: Robert Gober opens at the Paula Cooper Gallery It includes two sculptures of an oversized stick of butter, a sculpture of a sewer grate beneath which rests a sculpture of a man’s leg emerging from a woman’s vagina. Upon seeing this work, Leah Gober asks, “Bobby, why would you want to make something like this?”

Christian Scheidemann: I’m always interested in how he treats different surfaces. The butter is finished with a diaper and some solvent to make it look this buttery. Butter should not look finished because butter doesn’t have a finish. Gober has a wonderful sense of materiality, how he observes materials. For instance, his legs are finished with tools but also with cloth and mineral spirits; the chests are highly polished with hairbrushes, because it’s a different part of your body. It’s all wax but it looks different. He’s interested in imitation or re-creation or portraits. It sounds like portraiture.

Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor is on view through January 18, 2015.

Robert Gober and Ann Temkin will discuss the exhibition and the accompanying publication at MoMA on Wednesday, November 5, 2014 at 6:00 p.m.; for more information and to watch a live stream of the event visit the online calendar on The New York Public Library will host a separate discussion between the two on Tuesday, December 16, 2014, 6:00–8:00 p.m. in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, South Court Auditorium.