28 March 2015

The Suitcase and the Sink

Sometimes I don't know where to begin the tale. Is it with the book I just finished? Is it with the MoMA exhibit I saw in January, the catalog for which is the aforementioned last book I read? Or should I start on a spring day in 1998, at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Connecticut, where I first encountered Robert Gober?

I think I'll start there. I can't remember why we drove up to Ridgefield from NYC. The Aldrich isn't much of a destination, but maybe we decided to stop there on the way to visit my cousin? In any case, the Aldrich had a Robert Gober exhibit open, and it was gobsmacking and challenging and exhilarating - an exhibit that I remembered for a long time afterwards.

Gober's a sculptor, the kind of sculptor that likes to remake ordinary objects. He cast a paint can in crystal and painstakingly hand painted it ... to look like a paint can. He took a piece of styrofoam found washed up on the beach ... and cast it in bronze and painted it. He's made wax legs with real leg hair, which then get socks and shoes, and are carefully placed sticking out of the wall, at floor level, shades of the Wicked Witch of the East after someone dropped a house upon her. And the sinks - reproductions of old beat up farmhouse sinks, made of paint and plaster and chicken wire and lath. They're not going to hold any water, ever.

But the piece at the Aldrich that stayed with me was the suitcase. Sitting on the floor in a mostly empty room, from a distance it looked like an old suitcase, lid open, satin lining showing. When you got closer, you realized that set into the bottom of the suitcase was a cast iron sewer drain. Closer, and you could see down through the grate to a tide pool complete with moving water and rocks and swaying seaweed. As you leaned over to peer directly down into the suitcase, there appeared a pair of men's feet. And it wasn't until you were leaning over from the other side, looking over the lid of the suitcase, that you could see that the man was dangling a baby over the tide pool. It had a cinematic aspect to the reveal, the way the suitcase morphed from ordinary object to portal. And I never forgot it.

Last fall, the Museum of Modern Art mounted a big retrospective of Gober. Me, being disorganized, I procrastinated until the very last minute so that we saw the show on the day it closed. Happily for me, there was hardly anyone there - everyone was upstairs at the exhibit of the Matisse cutouts. Those are all well and good, and pretty to look at, but my idea of fun is not a museum show where there are eleventy hundred people between you and the wall so you can't get a good look at anything. The Gober exhibit show was everything I hoped it would be. Mind-bending and thrilling, it was chock full of interesting things to see - including, yes, the suitcase of my memories.

I bought the catalog. I read the catalog from cover to cover, delighting in bits like "Just give me that two-by-four". And you know what? It makes my heart sing that there are such dementedly creative people in this world of ours.

When we were in San Francisco in February, we went to Alcatraz. Alcatraz is, of course, a glorious ruin - and is home, right now, to an exhibit of work by contemporary artist Ai Weiwei.

I was struck there by a sink. Long, rust-tinged, porcelain, unplumbed, it could well be one of Gober's sinks. How perfect to find it at Alcatraz. Art meets life meets art.


Jennifer Denise Ouellette said...

I love your intellectualism. That piece sounds very cool.