Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor

Robert Gober has a uncanny sensibility for bringing strange connections to light in both his artistic and curatorial practice. .  One sees things previously unseen through a clever rearrangement of reality.  As in Magritte, ideation finds subtle elegance.  New associations are formed through a very particular intellectual rigor.  However, no matter how unusual things may seem in Gober’s work there still remains the commonplace.

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Installation view of Robert Gober’s “The Heart Is Not a Metaphor” at MoMA

“A Heart Is Not a Metaphor” at the Museum of Modern Art is Gober’s first major survey in the United States. Previously, he had a retrospective exhibition at the Schaulager in Basel, and represented the US in the 2001 Venice Biennale. In 2010, Gober curated a exhibition of Charles E. Burchfield’s paintings at the Whitney.  Peter Schjeldahl remarked, “Gober’s response to Burchfield radiates aesthetic and psychological acuity.”  And his disparate assemblage of the Menil Collection in the 2005 exhibition “The Meat Wagon,” remains legendary.

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Installation view of Robert Gober’s “The Heart Is Not a Metaphor” at MoMA
When Gober was asked about the title of the exhibition he replied that it was from “a novel by Elizabeth Hardwick called “Sleepless Nights” and the full sentence is ‘alas, the heart is not a metaphor or at least not always a metaphor.’ And I took ‘the heart is not a metaphor’ out of it. By taking it out of context I made it into, hopefully, a line of poetry and thus irreducible.”

This irreducible quality is truly the crux of his 40 years of work.   The work is entirely metaphorical but one has the sense that Gober’s heart is honest and true.  His talent lies in seeing things from all angles.  As Glenn Lowry remarked respectfully, his work is “always poetic, always moving.”

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Installation view of Robert Gober’s “The Heart Is Not a Metaphor” at MoMA
Robert Gober’s “A Heart Is Not a Metaphor” is on view at the Museum of Modern Art from October 4, 2014, through January 18, 2015