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  • Provenance

    Paula Cooper Gallery, New York; Private collection, Germany; Collection Vicki and Kent Logan, San Francisco

  • Exhibited

    San Francisco, Fraenkel Gallery, Not Exactly Photographs, March 6 - April 26, 2003; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Supernova: Art of the 1990s from the Logan Collection, December 13, 2003 - May 23, 2004

  • Literature

    M. Grynsztejn, ed., Supernova: Art of the 1990s from the Logan Collection, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2003, pl. 55, pp. 114 & 120 (illustrated); T. Vischer, ed., Robert Gober: Sculptures and Installations 1979-2007, Basel, 2007, pl. S1990.15, p. 253 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Robert Gober has established himself as one of the most ambitious and compelling contemporary artists. He has developed a unique sculptural practice that quietly expands upon many of the issues underlying Conceptualism by linking them to the representation of the body and its numerous surrogates. Perhaps the most iconic and significant work from his oeuvre, Robert Gober’s sculptures of isolated legs are an important link in understanding the entirety of his life’s work. The artist has said, “I do remember feeling a great sense of relief when the leg sculpture began to take form in my studio because it opened a door.” (T. Vischer, ed., Robert Gober: Sculptures and Installations 1979-2007, Basel, 2007, p. 255). One of the strengths of this laboriously handmade, purposely non-monumental work is that it evokes multiple readings and there is no final answer to the work, yet it is surely a provocative image of the vulnerability and isolation, and it confronts us intimately with mortality.The disembodied leg placed on the floor connected to the wall, surprisingly does not seem chopped off or dead, but rather exposed and in need of protection.
    “If Gober's plumbing fixtures serve, in part as surrogates of the body, his sculptures of limbs and torso's represent the body in a more literal way. The deceptive simplicity of Untitled, 1990, one of the artist’s best known works, contributes to its underlying ambiguity. Emerging from the wall, the disembodied leg is rendered realistically in beeswax and human hair and garbed in cotton trousers and a leather shoe. Gober does not endow the limb with an aura of heroism or masculinity; the power of the work derives largely from the ordinariness of what could be the leg of a businessman or a school teacher.Where did it come from? Where is the rest of the body? What happened here? Gober's fascination with the fragmented or dislocated body is closely tied to the social context in which the works were created as well to his acknowledged interest in constructing dioramas about contemporary human beings. [The sculpture’s] physical displacement and marked quiescence heighten a mise-en-scène that captures the paranoia and tragedy of everyday life.” (C. Kim, “Robert Gober,” Supernova: Art of the 1990’s from the Logan Collection, San Francisco, 2003, p. 114)
    The artist recounts that he arrived at the idea of the leg sculpture while flying on a small plane in Europe: “I had been in Bern and gone to see the Natural History Museum and it struck me as odd that contemporary people were omitted from the dioramas.Then, I’m on a small tightly packed commuter plane and across the aisle from me is this handsome business man with his legs crossed. His sock didn’t meet his pants on his crossed leg and I was transfixed by this hairy bit of being. It seemed so vulnerable and exposed but an odd moment to make a sculpture of.” (T. Vischer, ed., Robert Gober: Sculptures and Installations 1979-2007, Basel, 2007, p. 255)
    Gober created the sculpture out of a cast of his own lower leg (Figure 1) in bleached beeswax. He then meticulously implanted human hairs, acquired from a wig factory, one by one into the warm wax to achieve the important simultaneously alluring and repulsive effect of real leg hair growing out of skin. He dressed the leg in pants and socks, with the essential gap between them, and worn in shoes.
    Regarding his process, the artist said, “When I make something, I often initially just grab the things that are around me to use as material in order to see most quickly what I’m imagining. So with this sculpture, I used a shoe that was in my closet. But I realized quickly that people saw the use of one of my own shoes as something close to a fetish object and this didn’t feel right. One of my assistants at that time had a woman friend who was a crossdresser and who happened to have fairly large feet. So we sent her to the Brooks Brothers clothing store where I had originally purchased the shoes and we bought her a number of pairs. She would wear them around the city and after a couple of weeks of walking she would drop by the studio for us to inspect them. Sometimes they were just right and other times she needed to do a little more walking.” (T. Vischer, ed., Robert Gober: Sculptures and Installations 1979-2007, Basel, 2007, p. 255)
    The result of his thoroughly handmade process results in a life-like leg, imbued with the aura of the human touch. In Hal Foster’s book The Return of the Real, 1996 he discusses Gober’s use of illusionism as being pushed “to the point of the real, not to cover up the real with simulacral surfaces but to uncover it in uncanny things.” (p. 152). The point of Gober’s creation of the human leg in life-size form in such a realistic manner is not about achieving the perfect imitation of life, but in evoking our reaction to the life within the object. Untitled, 1990 evokes the viewer’s desire to care for it, as well as our fears of the intimacy, and mortality of the human flesh.
    In her essay in the catalogue for Robert Gober’s solo exhibition at the Museum Boymans-von Beuningen Rotterdam, Karel Schampers states, “One thing I shall never forget about Robert Gober’s work is his fine sense of tactile values, his love of surface. His objects have a particularly sensitive skin, like a baby’s, irresistibly inviting to the touch. At the same time that delicate fragility, vulnerable to the slightest touch, acts as an ingenious defense mechanism. Attraction and repulsion act on the same level. Gober is constantly trying to balance the fragile intersections of extremes.” (K. Schampers, Robert Gober, Rotterdam, 1990, p. 31)
    While Gober’s sculpture deals with the serious and poetic issues of vulnerability and death, the work also has a (albeit somewhat dark) sense of humor about it as it deals with the seductive morbidity of the common place. In another recount of where his leg sculpture originated, the artist says, “Another source is probably my mother who used to entertain me as a child with tales from the operating room where she worked as a nurse before her children were born. Her very first operation was the amputation of a leg.The doctor turned and handed it to her and she didn’t know what to do.” (T. Vischer, ed., Robert Gober: Sculptures and Installations 1979-2007, Basel, 2007, p. 255). Much like the doctor, Gober hands the viewer a leg to deal with. He positions it unexpectedly jutting out of the wall, as if a Surrealist painting came to life and joined us in our own space.
    Gober’s use of singular forms and everyday subject matter often remind viewers and writers of Duchamp, who elevated industrially manufactured objects to the status of art. However, while Gober’s works seems to borrow these forms, they are newly infused with humanity and warmth. His highly personal, emotional approach allows for something completely new to arise. Gober is a new page in art history.
    “The narrative formed from Gober’s individual appearances has developed an impressive complexity and beauty over the years, from their restrained beginnings to the pictorial idiom based on engaged humanity of recent years.Their themes remain the same: they revolve around childhood, sexuality, religion, power, and exclusion. These are all old themes that have merged from time immemorial in social communities, both private and public. Here, however, they are narrated from the perspective of the 1980s and 1990s and the first years of the twenty-first century, against the backdrop of a nation that had once sought to become a center ofWestern culture. Gober never left any doubt about the context in which his artistic creativity played out. Again and again he alludes directly in his works, whether by looking at the history of the country, its great utopias of a just and free society and the failure thereof, or by looking at events from the immediate past that we have lived through ourselves, the AIDS crisis of the late 1980s and early 1990s, the 1998 Starr Report on President Bill Clinton, or 9/11. Such direct references to historical or contemporary events are never isolated, however.They appear as part of Gober’s pictorial world, where they function as powerful catalysts that push his great narrative even further.” (T. Vischer, ed., Robert Gober: Sculptures and Installations 979-2007, Basel, 2007, p. 15)




Beeswax, cotton, wood, leather, and human hair.

12 1/4 x 5 1/2 x 20 1/2 in. (31.1 x 14 x 52.1 cm).
Signed, titled, and dated “Robert Gober ‘Untitled’ 1990” on the reverse. This work is unique.

$1,200,000 - 1,800,000 

Sold for $3,625,000

Contemporary Art Part I

15 May 2008, 7pm
New York