The first show we saw at our MoMA trip was Robert Gober. I’ve always liked him because he kind of freaks me out. I still remember seeing one of his solo shows 14 years ago. It’s interesting to go through and compare my memories with everything he’s done since then.
Most of what I remember are his wax creations—feet and candles and torsos—and the sinks and drains. Those are still as surreal as I remember them being. He’s gone beyond surreal objects though into surreal spaces. It’s not enough to see things that are the stuff of bad or weird dreams,* Gober transforms the galleries into spaces where the scale everything throws off your point of view. Things are too big or far away or high and everything feels like you’re looking at it from the wrong angle.
*Or at the very least those have-to-go-pee dreams you have right before getting up in the morning.
What I found myself liking more though were the ways he transformed ephemera into a different kind of printed medium. The way the printed pieces go from being one-off (thermal paper or hand-written notes) to mass-producible (engraving or letterpress) rather than the other way around is especially interesting to me. I’m used to seeing things end up in the museum via the opposite process where something mass-produced is recreated by hand.
As a print nerd, I really enjoy Gober’s detailed printing instructions since they indicate to me how much craft goes into mass-producing anything. These aren’t just cheap scans and inkjets, these are engravings printed on nice paper and they only look cheap and disposable until you look closely and see how nice the paper and printing are. I wish I could handle these.
The Gober exhibition is also one which is fun to watch everyone else in the galleries. It’s so weird that the way people react is totally part of the experience. His work can’t be dismissed as non-art but it also isn’t something that most people like. They don’t know how to react and instead have to accept and deal with what they’re seeing rather than defaulting to easy emotions.
I love watching this kind of confusion. Still, there were not enough people laughing for my taste.