Robert Gober’s The Heart is Not a Metaphor and Sturtevant’s Double Trouble showed concurrently at MOMA in New York, each exhibition dealing with resemblance. Gober’s work prompted Sturtevant (last name only) to create her own ‘Gober’. Both artists questioned authenticity; Sturtevant challenging, Gober changing.

Gober executes at odds with expectation. White industrial-looking sinks fill the first gallery but drain and faucet holes are not quite right, the proportion is odd, the double sink is joined incorrectly while another fits incongruously into a corner. The didactics introduce a clue to the perception that ‘something is not right’. These sinks made of wood, plaster, lathe and paint not porcelain-ed metal.

A box containing a mini-pie is made of clay, glass, metal and paint. The backsplash of a white sink morphs into splintering white-washed wood planks. A chair, hung upon a wall has twisted between the rungs a single, child-size leg with cotton socks and a little girl’s shoe on either end.

With holes, corner and drains and nether sensations lurking in yucky, mustiness, Gober invokes sexuality. Wall paper with male portraits in the style of romantic watercolours supports bags of kitty litter on the floor leaning against the walls and addresses AIDS. The kitty litter references the mess of feces within a context of sanitization. They are renditions of litter bags, a solid mass of plaster with acrylic paint. In another installation, Gober papers a room with white scratchy drawings of male and female genitals like chalk graffiti on a black board.

Throughout the galleries truncated legs — one with pants at the ankles and an exposed waxen bum, another with stubby, milky candles calling to mind S&M practices — lie on floors, a surface meant for the dusty bottoms of shoes. Gober’s fallen angles supplicate, muffled, inept, degraded and deathly pale.

Thin black hairs sprout from atop a large triangle cut from a wheel of Swiss cheese.

Following 9/11, Gober made a chapel-like installation. A headless crucified Christ spurts two streams of water from the nipples to drain into a hole in the museum’s floor, the splash indicating a great depth. Slightly open, flanking doors are secured with a chain. Water is running into the bath, soon to flow over. We see pale naked male legs in one, female’s in the other.

Much of Sturtevant’s artistic career was spent remaking pieces that had been made by other artists. In 1961, Claes Oldenburg set up a fake store in Chelsea, a mock-up of a commercial space. Soon afterwards Sturtevant set up a store front nearby, replicating it as closely as possible, titling her piece Sturtevant’s Oldenburg’s Storefront. It was documented that Oldenburg, angered, broke off their friendship. Sturtevant insisted she only wanted to understand what it was like for Oldenburg to create this piece as a conceptual means of illumination.

She ‘did’ Stella, painting one of his classic square format pieces. She silk screened wallpaper just as Warhol had using his garish wall flower images. She did a Segal plaster figure, a Keith Haring graffiti on a replica of the wall he had worked on. Sturtevant recreated a Beuys installation, casting herself in a Beuys film doing the same as Beuys but using her own body. The caption in her Lichtenstein references her own practice. She insisted throughout that she was not interested in forgery but making conceptual art work by using the same materials and processes. Sturtevant described her process — “everything but surface content is sucked out”.

It is not surprising that Gober also attracted Sturtevant’s attention. She riffed on the naughty wall paper, like images found on bathroom walls. It is interesting that MOMA dealt with her Gober by combining him with Felix Gomez Torres, a gay activist artist whose work also addressed AIDS. Known for illuminating, glorious installations of light bulbs, Felix Gomez Torres died an early death. By placing a Torres light work beside Sturtevant’s Gober, the latter’s darker oeuvre is softened.

Contumely did get to Sturtevant. She saw the call “copying” as a misinterpretation of her work and abandoned art making for a number of years. In 2000, she appeared back on the scene using new media. There is a long corridor into her exhibition with a video projected along the hundred foot length of wall. Over and over a dog bursts forth running at full speed towards the far end of the corridor, seemingly into her exhibition. As the dog nears the end of the hallway the body elongates from the extreme angle of the projection so that stretched, it disappears as if repeatedly enacting a desperate chase into oblivion.

Both Gober and Sturtevant explored the relationship between the materiality of the object and the concept of the object. Both were intimately engaged in their own personal monologue with long committed practices. Seeing the original Gober at the same time as Sturtevant’s Gober clarified the concepts of both artists. 

Until Jan 18, 2015

MOMA New York
Until Feb 22, 2015