Contemporary art consists of art from the late 20th century until today. This style of art is characterized by its rejection of the modern art and displacing emphasis in painting, sculpture, and other media, such as films, videos, sounds, performance, and architecture.(1) There are great number of artists that are part of this period, some well known like Andy Warhol and Barnett Newman, and some not-so-familiar like Robert Gober. Gober is an American born artist. He was born September 12, 1954 in Willingford, Connecticut and he is currently living and working in New York City.(2)
Contemporary art is characterized by a mixture of different art such as painting, sculpture, and the usage of nontraditional materials.(3) Gober is a good example for contemporary art because one can see in his different pieces of art the usage of nontraditional material. For example, he uses beeswax, leather, cotton, sinks, doors, and human-shaped limbs. Gober expresses different issues and themes. Some of them include politics, religion, and nature. The specific piece of art chosen for this project is Untitled and this piece of art is very intriguing and interesting. Gober did a good job at expressing some of the most pressing issues in our society. Each piece of his work has a meaning and they each represent something significance in the society.
One of the most prominent parts of the piece is the wallpaper. This wallpaper is disturbing because it shows the hanging of a black male, then it shows a white male sleeping, and these images are repeated throughout the whole room. Gober depicted “the ugly and unforgettable reality of the United States’ history. By putting this image onto endlessly repeating wallpaper, [Gober] made an attempt to say, metaphorically, this was not an isolated event and that in ways it has become our background.”(4) Then is the strikingly beautiful, white, empty, wedding dress in the middle of the room. According to Gober, this dress “represents the supposed white purity that often triggered or justified the violence depicted on the walls. It also represents a vessel that is ready to be filled with all of the optimistic hopes and dreams of marriage.”(5) Finally, the sculptures of cat litter. These bags are placed in different areas of the room. The bags “link the violent imagery and the wedding dress, the metaphorical fulcrum.”(6) Cat litter bags are made to absorb the smell of cat waste and it allows “domestic intimacy.”(7) The wallpaper is the stench that the United States has to live with.
Viewing this piece of art as a whole is quite absurd and obscure but when focusing on the details, it makes more sense. One might be tempted to reject it when looking at it through the Christian worldview lens, but it has merit. Robin N. Jensen says in her book, The Substance of Things Seen, “Artists who believe their role is to reflect upon reality, upon the whole of human existence, and to present the truth as they find it rather than to ‘make something of beauty to the eye alone’ often turn away from the conventionally ‘beautiful’ and instead present images that shock or disturb us”.(7) This contemporary piece of art is shocking, but it is meant to present a profound truth about our culture. It represents the mistakes that our culture has made, and serves as a reminder about how those mistakes affected us. It can be seen as a reminder of those mistakes so that they will not be made again. We can learn to be cautious in our actions and conscious of the people around us. It helps us see how we often forget that we were created by God in His image. A shocking image can be a great reminder; God used disturbing and shocking events and people to do His work. Take, for instance, the birth of Jesus Christ to a virgin girl. Mary was not married when she became pregnant, and her situation was in God’s will. Many more stories in Jesus’ ministry teach us that sometimes, the most shocking and disturbing people or actions can cause the greatest response. Robert Gober’s Untitled can be judged as a good piece because of this.