chapter  4
56 Pages

Fearing death

Robert Gober’s false blasphemy
WithTaylor Worley

Robert Gober’s (1954–) immaculate sculptures and installations serve to create alternative religious environments, and these places are both evocative of his Roman Catholic upbringing and virtually haunted by the ghosts of his excommunication from that past. Tender yet poignant, these meditations on the loss of home, family, and faith speak to the experience of extreme separation without a death. And yet alongside the grief, a glimmer of hope surfaces – in that the thought of death remains, for Gober, connected to Christ. The seemingly blasphemous surfaces of Gober’s artworks often demonstrate a wry engagement with the inconsistencies of Christian symbolism, but alongside similar projects from artists like Andres Serrano, Chris Ofili, and Kiki Smith, Gober’s works stand out for their sustained reconsideration of such symbols. At the same time, however, Gober’s exploration and manipulation of traditional Catholic imagery (e.g. depictions of Christ and the Virgin Mary) also conceals a deep yearning for the things of Christ to speak beyond the reach of the Church. The work of scholars like Caroline Walker Bynum and David Brown serves to help indicate that Gober’s retrieval of Christian imagery is much more than mere blasphemy.