Robert Gober was born in 1954, in Wallingford, Connecticut. He began his studies at the Tyler School of Art in Roma, Texas, and then transferred to Middlebury College, Vermont, where he studied art and literature. In 1976, Gober moved to New York and worked with the dance theater ensemble of Johanna Boyce. In 1979, he became the assistant of painter Elizabeth Murray who introduced him to the works of Jonathan Borofsky, Joel Shapiro, Donald Judd, and Robert Wilson.
The photo montages and conceptual works of Cindy Sherman and Jenny Holzer became first points of orientation. Sherman’s and Holzer’s body constructions and their artistic focus on sexuality and its social interpretations provided important impulses for Gober’s own work. He first turned towards painting, investigating its potential as medium. With Slides of a Changing Painting (1982/83), a work that captures the repetitive overpainting of a picture in more than 1000 color slides, Gober focused on the human body, its object status, and its sexual changeability. At the same time, he created figural works made of plaster (Untitled (Dog) 1982; Untitled (Crouching Man) 1982).
Only after the mid-1980s did Gober devote himself to object art. A first attempt was his making of doll-houses, initially done for commercial purposes only. Importantly, his first exhibition at the Gallery Paula Coopers in New York coincided with a new artistic appreciation for crafted objects, due to the conceptual approaches of Minimal Art. Between 1984 and 1986, next to the miniature houses, the Sinks, plaster sinks without drains or faucets, became Gober’s most significant, serially produced motifs. As models he took industrially produced prototypes. The drain, in its double perception as medium of »displacement« and of disposing foul liquids, became a starting point for Gober to probe the defamiliarizing effects of seemingly familiar objects that are part of collective memory. Gober has also been interested in the sexual and Surrealist connotations of the objects and has kept turning towards the haptical and practical objects of everyday life. In his works, their seeming harmlessness turns into monstrosity. In the very act of perception they become threatening agents with a physical autonomy.
After 1989, Gober extended his range of motifs to the fashioning of beds and playpens (1986 — 87), to furniture and dog baskets (1986 — 88), and, finally to architectonic elements such as doors (1988 — 89). Almost all of pieces of furniture are painted with enamel, providing them with a sterile appearance. Gober himself described his objects as follows: »The objects chosen are mostly emblems of transition. (…) they are objects that change you in one way or another. Like the sink, from dirty to clean; the beds, from the conscious to the unconscious; from rational thinking to dreams« (Gober, in: Bomb, 1989).
The distanced physicalness that Gober tried, until recently, to evoke in the defamiliarized everyday objects (Tissue Box 1994/95), was also achieved in the figural sculpture which he eventually focused on again. Inspired by the exhibition techniques of museums of natural history, he now used wax as a basic material: »When I was in Bern at the Museum of Natural History, I was surprised that the dioramas did not contain representations of humans. Suddenly a wide field opened up for me. I wanted to create natural history dioramas of contemporary humans« (Gober, in: Ausst.-Kat. London 1993). Yet Gober’s body fragments of wax push the seriousness of natural history stagings to the point of absurdity, since they use the museal space itself as absurdly theatrical stage: Legs with shoes come out of the museum wall (Untitled (Leg), 1989/90), bodies lie casually on the floor. Gober has kept producing these mostly untitled works until today.
With the creation of complete room installations since 1989, a further focus in Gober’s œuvre has emerged. He covers detached exhibition walls with wallpaper patterns and in this way creates oscillating spatial impressions. They evoke privacy through the choice of miniature-like pattern motifs, yet through the objects that are staged there they also appear frightening and strange (Hanging Man / Sleeping Man, 1989).
Gober’s works have been shown at many international exhibitions, for example, in 1988 and 2001, at the Venice Biennale and, also in 2001, at the Documenta. Among the locations where Gober’s work has been shown in solo exhibitions are the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam (1990), the Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Basel (1995), the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1997), the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich (2004), and the Schaulager Basel (2007).
Robert Gober lives and works in New York.
Robert Gober. Skulpturen und Installationen 1979 — 2007: Ausst.-Kat. Schaulager Basel, hg. v. Th. Vischer, Göttingen 2007
Braun, Alexander: Robert Gober, Werke von 1978 bis heute. Nürnberg 2003
Robert Gober: Ausst.-Kat. Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles 1997
Robert Gober: Ausst.-Kat. Museum für Gegenwartskunst Basel, hg. v. Th. Vischer, Basel 1995
Robert Gober: Ausst.-Kat. Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam 1990