Robert Gober

Untitled (Leg), 1989-90, beeswax, cotton, wood, leather and human hair, Museum of Modern Art, New York

MoMA’s “Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor” is the first American retrospective of the artist’s work to date, chronicling a 40-year career. Open through January 18, 2015, the exhibition features approximately 130 works encompassing trompe-l’oeil sculpture, immersive installations, drawings, paintings, and prints. The show is expansive, yet subdued and draws on Gober’s work as both artist and curator by restaging a number of earlier shows.

Primordial works date from Gober’s college days, which he felt was a crucial part of the survey. He wanted to illustrate his progression as an artist, even if these initial works were perhaps less successful than his more recent ones. (This didn’t prove to be a problem; the work in the show is incredibly consistent.) “I would go to these retrospectives as a young artist, and I always remember feeling disappointed that there wasn’t any early work. I wanted to see where these artists began,” said Gober. Indeed, his choice to provide a foundation for the viewer was a wise one, as many of the themes that emerge within the first few galleries reemerge throughout the show and culminate in a circular narrative. Hung in the first gallery, an oil painting of his parent’s house in Connecticut from 1975 is juxtaposed with a white playpen sculpture made this year, illustrating Gober’s origin, growth, and the tacitly personal aspect of much of the work that follows.

From there, we are introduced to a number of restaged shows. The first features his sink series. Gober thrives in trompe-l’oeil representation, for at first glance, these varied basins, with their pristine white gleam seem more like ready-mades than constructions. In fact, they are what the artist calls “portraits of sinks” that he has known or encountered. Some seem intimate, like Small Bathroom Sink, while others are large public vessels, such as Broom Sink. However, they all lack one crucial element: plumbing. Made during the AIDS crisis, their lack of utility is a sobering reminder of the inability to cleanse oneself of the disease. This concept culminates in the haunting tension between a trompe-l’oeil bed placed before a window looking out on two half-buried sinks. Like gravestones, the sinks imply the impending deaths of the many individuals tragically taken by intimacy.

Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor
Installation view of Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor, The Museum of Modern Art, October 4, 2014–January 18, 2015. © 2014 The Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Jonathan Muzikar. All works by Robert Gober © 2014 Robert Gober

Questions surrounding sex, politics, and civil rights continue throughout the show. The next galleries feature restaged sculptural installations from a 1989 exhibition at Paula Cooper gallery. Wallpaper featuring a pattern of a lynching and a white man sleeping serenely illustrate the awful history of the United States in overwhelming repetition, while in the next room, walls covered with line-drawn genitalia demand questions about our discomfort with sex and gender. An empty wedding dress and a bag of donuts sit in the center of each respective gallery. This physical uneasiness continues with Gober’s dismembered leg sculptures, formed with wax and human hair, beneath fully constructed fabric clothes and leather shoes.

In later works, water makes an appearance. The sinks re-emerge, this time with plumbing pumping through them. The walls are covered in jungle-like wallpaper, and newspapers are strewn about the gallery floor. Another piece features a suitcase that also functions as a portal. Beneath a sewer grate, far below the gallery floor, is a tide pool with starfish, coral and human feet from a man and a baby. The use of water comes to a climax in a complex rumination on 9/11 in the form of a church with pews on either side of a center aisle that leads up to a crucifix with water streaming from Jesus’ nipples and into a pit in the gallery floor.


The themes here are rich and Gober seems to pose more questions than he answers. With adroit renderings and subversions of everyday objects and possessions, Gober illuminates issues as broad and troubling as sex, politics, and religion. The show is moving, and the sculptures are stunning in their simplicity and skill. Through the isolation and juxtaposition of our everyday objects, Gober implores us to consider the fraught history of American life, and as a result, asks us what it means to be an American today.


Nicholas Nixon: Forty Years of The Brown Sisters


Nicholas Nixon (born 1947 in Detroit, Michigan) is a photographer, known for his work in portraiture and documentary photography, and for championing the use of the 8×10 inch view camera. Influenced by the photographs of Edward Weston and Walker Evans, Nixon began working with large-format cameras. Whereas most professional photographers had abandoned these cameras in favor of shooting on 35 mm film with more portable cameras, Nixon preferred the format because it allowed prints to be made directly from the 8×10 inch negatives, retaining the clarity and integrity of the image. Nixon has said “When photography went to the small camera and quick takes, it showed thinner and thinner slices of time, [unlike] early photography where time seemed non-changing. I like greater chunks, myself. Between 30 seconds and a thousandth of a second the difference is very large.”

1978, Harwich Port, Mass.

Nicholas Nixon was visiting his wife’s family when, “on a whim,” he said, he asked her and her three sisters if he could take their picture. It was summer 1975, and a black-and-white photograph of four young women — elbows casually attenuated, in summer shirts and pants, standing pale and luminous against a velvety background of trees and lawn — was the result. A year later, at the graduation of one of the sisters, while readying a shot of them, he suggested they line up in the same order. After he saw the image, he asked them if they might do it every year. “They seemed O.K. with it,” he said; thus began a project that has spanned almost his whole career. The series, which has been shown around the world over the past four decades, will be on view at the Museum of Modern Art, coinciding with the museum’s publication of the book “The Brown Sisters: Forty Years” in November.

Who are these sisters? We’re never told (though we know their names: from left, Heather, Mimi, Bebe and Laurie; Bebe, of the penetrating gaze, is Nixon’s wife). The human impulse is to look for clues, but soon we dispense with our anthropological scrutiny — Irish? Yankee, quite likely, with their decidedly glamour-neutral attitudes — and our curiosity becomes piqued instead by their undaunted stares. All four sisters almost always look directly at the camera, as if to make contact, even if their gazes are guarded or restrained.

Nixon, Nicholas
1988, Wellesley, Mass.

2014, Wellfleet, Mass.

Marie Watt


Blanket Stories: Three Sisters, Cousin Rose, Four Pelts, and Sky Woman, 2005
Each approximately 20″ x 20″ x 180″
Stacked and folded wool blankets, salvaged cedar.
Installation view, Hoffman Gallery, Lewis & Clark College, Portland, Oregon.

We are received in blankets, and we leave in blankets. The work in these rooms is inspired by the stories of those beginnings and endings, and the life in between. I am interested in human stories and rituals implicit in everyday objects. Currently I am exploring the history of wool blankets. I find myself attracted to the blanket’s two- and three-dimensional qualities: On a wall, a blanket functions as a tapestry, but on a body it functions as a robe and living art object. Blankets also serve a utilitarian function. As I fold and stack blankets, they begin to form columns that have references to linen closets, architectural braces, memorials (The Trajan Column), sculpture (Brancusi, for one), the great totem poles of the Northwest and the conifer trees around which I grew up. In Native American communities, blankets are given away to honor people for being witnesses to important life events – births and comings-of-age, graduations and marriages, namings and honorings. For this reason, it is considered as great a privilege to give a blanket away as it is to receive one.

Blankets hang around in our lives and families – they gain meaning through use. My work is about social and cultural histories imbedded in commonplace objects. I consciously draw from indigenous design principles, oral traditions, and personal experience to shape the inner logic of the work I make. These wool blankets come from family, friends, acquaintances and secondhand stores (I’ll buy anything under $5). As friends come over and witness my blanket project in progress, I am struck by how the blankets function as markers for their memories and stories.


Blanket Stories: Cousin Rose, Four Pelts, Sky Woman and Relations, 2004
Each approximately 20″ x 20″ x 212″
Stacked and folded wool blankets, salvaged cedar.
Installation view, National Museum of the American Indian, New York, New York.


Totem: Blue Four-point, Lavadour and First-born, 2004
27″ x 27″ x 94″
Bronze, wool blankets, salvaged red cedar.
Jeri L. Waxenberg Collection


Installation, Institute of American Indian Arts Museum, 2006
Various dimensions
Reclaimed wool, bronze, salvaged cedar, salvaged fir
Includes: Blanket Stories: Three Sisters, Cousin Rose, Four Pelts, Sky Woman and All My Relations, 2006; Almanac: Glacier Park, Granny Beebe and Satin Ledger, 2005; Canopy (Odd One), 2005; and Canopy (Omphalos), 2005.

Susy Oliveira


Susy Oliveira, a Toronto-based multimedia artist, has been making a lot of online buzz with her photo-based constructions. Made from c-prints and foamcore, her works blend photography and sculpture, resulting in something that is at once imposing in its three-dimensionality and strikingly two-dimensional and angular.

Her photographs are mounted on each face of a volume to restore the third dimension to the image that was lost through the photographic process. In this way, Oliveira repurposes the images, giving them a new form and life. The result is a pixelated effect similar to that of video game characters or computer graphics circa 1980. The shape of the subject is therefore both simplified and amplified, creating something that is neither reality nor fiction, but somewhere in between.

For Oliveira, her sculptures represent one aspect of our modern obsession with replacing nature with fabricated, manmade versions of things, and with mixing the virtual with the real. These sculptures create their own virtual world that, like other virtual environments, is identifiably different than (but uncomfortably close to) reality.







a person who is able to change their appearance, behavior, or attitudes, so as to be comfortable in any situation.


Zelig is a 1983 American mockumentary film written and directed by Woody Allen and starring Allen and Mia Farrow. Allen plays Leonard Zelig, a nondescript enigma who, out of his desire to fit in and be liked, takes on the characteristics of strong personalities around him. The film, presented as a documentary, recounts Zelig’s intense period of celebrity in the 1920s and includes analyses from present day intellectuals.

The film was photographed and narrated in the style of 1920s black-and-white newsreels, which are interwoven with archival footage from the era, and re-enactments of real historical events. Color segments from the present day include interviews of real and fictional personages, including Saul Bellow and Susan Sontag.

Heather Dewey-Hagborg

In Stranger Visions artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg creates portrait sculptures from analyses of genetic material collected in public places. Working with the traces strangers unwittingly leave behind, Dewey-Hagborg calls attention to the impulse toward genetic determinism and the potential for a culture of biological surveillance. Designed as an exploratory project based on emerging science, the forecast of Stranger Visions has proved prescient. For an example of DNA phenotyping at work in forensics check out the companies Parabon NanoLabs and Identitas and read about their collaboration with the Toronto police. Also see Mark Shriver’s research at Penn State on predicting faces from DNA.


Sample 2
MtDNA Haplogroup: H2a2a1 (Likely ancestry 25% Eastern European)
SRY Gene: present
Gender: Male
rs12913832: AA
Eye Color: Brown
rs4648379: CC
Typical nose size
rs6548238: CC
Typical odds for obesity


Sample 6
MtDNA Haplogroup: D1 (Likely ancestry 25% Native American, South American)
SRY Gene: present
Gender: Male
rs12913832: AA
Eye Color: Brown
rs4648379: CC
Typical nose size
rs6548238: CC
Typical odds for obesity