Recalling the title of Robert Gober’s 2014 MoMA show, The Heart is Not a Metaphor, the artist’s current show at Matthew Marks presents an embedded perspective, a uniquely engaged perspective, into Gober’s own internal world. His father built his childhood family house, and, in a similar sense, Gober was also a house-builder, starting his life of art making creating miniature dollhouses.
In “Maquette for Cellar Door” from 2001, front and center as the visitor enters the gallery, one sees a continuation of Gober’s journey into miniatures cobbled together from childhood recollections. With foam core, balsa wood, duct tape, wood, glue, ink and graphite, he has created a little replica of the entrance to an external basement in which one might find dilapidated shelves, food in Ball jars, old shovels or just about anything; a mysterious but familiar spot with stuff in it we’ve seen before. But we cannot know what is in this cellar because the door is closed.
With two upward pointing arrows, “This wall extends to ceiling” is scrawled on the replica of the mini-stairway. A pair of would-be wood doors is open; steps descend into the ground to another door below, this one closed. Behind where a toy viewer would stand looking down at the closed door, “emergency exit” is written on the model. Three rooms back, this tableau reoccurs, cut into the thick concrete floor of the Matthew Marks Gallery, with newly minted drywall extending to the ceiling as instructed, still a replica, but here life-sized. This object, seemingly plucked from the back of a “Cape” house constructed by Gober’s father, is his son’s work with “wood, paint, concrete, plaster, and human hair.” Again, the portal is slammed shut, now with light emanating behind it, more mysterious and less inviting than the outer doors beckoning us. First exhibited in 2001 at the Venice Biennale, it is on view for the first time in the U.S.
The show also features a series of framed works reminiscent of his 1992 piece Prison Window, in which an actual barred porthole transformed gallery-goers into prisoners by separating them from a blue sky. Now, surrounded by fourteen new untitled, slightly messy graphite and pastel drawings on vellum of carefully sketched, barred windows resting on tree branches, tree trunks and other scribbles, we notice each adorns, like a hieroglyphic heart, a nude torso, some male but most female.
In another series of three dimensional work, the artist is showing a series of white boxes, which contain robin’s eggs or fruit in the foreground. The fruit looks a bit fake, or no, like real fake fruit, while the delicate blue robin eggs, a stick of butter and other objects are uncannily authentic looking. The shadow boxes comprise a world of colorful and lively objects, yet presented in fairly benign compositions that invites the viewer into a deeper reflection on their own meaning-making and their interpretation of these objects.
There is fruit with dried leaves and pieces of trees or bark. There are eggs on a Chinese food lid positioned over a vine-patterned fabric, a dried leaf resting on the box base below. A plaster ear grows out of not the side of a head, but an anonymous oval base, then emerges out of, or at least near, some blue lilacs, on branches with green leaves and again, a curled, dead leaf below. One outlier inexplicably contains a handle-less plunger on a field of painted cherries, perhaps a cleaned up version of something found behind cellar doors.
Delicate narratives and ideas emerge, those of escape and confinement, of space held just outside the viewer’s grasp, or perhaps more broadly, limits. To Gober, the limits of the work seem equally to presuppose a force beyond them. Gober has religion, his own personal religion he has discussed in the past, alongside his use of metaphors to question faith’s relationship to art while creating his own minimal language. He chooses images he intends to depict, then carefully chooses and uses materials like wax and terra cotta to re-create examples of those images that other materials would not yield, had they been chosen, creating reverse readymades out of all the images and materials he does not choose.
Gober’s work is on view through April 21st.
— M. Bloch
Robert Gober: Tick Tock [Matthew Marks]