Growing up Catholic is like being part of a dysfunctional family: The harder you try to extricate yourself, the stronger its clutches. Ask Robert Gober, a former altar boy whose sculptural works have long engaged the paradoxical nature of faith, though he might well shrug and simply point to his work. And really, that’s where it all resides—in the liturgical drama, the ritual magic, and rich visual symbolism of the church, which Gober enigmatically reconceives in his latest installation, turning Matthew Marks’s gallery into a chapel-like space where politics, sexuality, and religion converge.
The focal point, of course, is a crucifix, which hangs on the back wall. Based on a version that belonged to his grandmother, Gober’s cement Christ is six feet tall (the same height as the artist), headless, and covered in diapers. Like a fountain nymph, he spurts water from his tits into a well in the floor, a robin perched on his shoulder. A plastic deck chair, recast in white porcelain, sits to his left, with an oversized yellow latex glove, rendered in ceramic, draped on its arm. To Christ’s right, a box of yellow bug lights, glass-blown, then cast in pewter and hand painted, lies on the floor, completing this unorthodox altar scene. Styrofoam plinths cast in bronze and arranged like pews bear heretic offerings of diaper bags and bowls of fruit, while two identical cast wax pagan figures—half man, half tree—crouch in corners. There’s much more, and to decipher it all you’d need a Robert Gober lexicon. Lo and behold, there’s one on hand. Written by Brenda Richardson, it spells out the backstory of every object in the show. On the other hand, maybe Gober’s mysticism is best experienced like a Zen koan, something you meditate on until an understanding beyond the intellect deepens the mind.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 15, 2005