America Is Hard to See
Audio Guide Playlist

This audio guide highlights selected works by artists in America Is Hard to See. Curators, scholars, and artists provide additional commentary.

NARRATOR: This untitled work by Robert Gober consists of a leg, cast in wax, with a candle emerging from it. 

PAULINA POBOCHA: And there are many biographical stories that kind of fed into this work. 

NARRATOR: Paulina Pobocha is an Assistant Curator at the Museum of Modern Art. She was one of the organizers of the 2014 exhibition Robert Gober: The Heart is Not a Metaphor

PAULINA POBOCHA: One of the most prominent, that sticks in my mind, was a story that he heard from his mother, who used to be a nurse when he was a child. She would tell them stories about the operating room where she worked. And one of her first days on the job, a doctor handed her a leg to dispose of. So she came home and told her children about that. So, you know, that must have stayed with the artist [laughs] when returning to the subject many, many years later. Another story was his seeing a man’s leg on airplane and thinking about how, both how vulnerable that little bit of skin the between the sock and the pant cuff was, and also how alluring. Typically when you think of legs in art, it’s women’s legs that are fetishized. 

And the candle, he was raised Catholic. The candle has religious overtones and there’s a hopefulness to the image. 

And I don’t think that you can look at these objects, which are made from, in this case made in 1991, without thinking of the AIDS epidemic. Especially when you’re seeing truncated male bodies lying on the floor.

The artist Zoe Leonard said something, she was very close with Gober at the time, and she said that when these objects first appeared, everyone saw them as these surreal objects. And what she interpreted that was not as a kind of reference to art history, but a reflection on the surreal times in which they were living, where all of these people were just allowed to die. And, that it was in fact a surreal moment, where you’re walking around downtown New York and there are many in their thirties acting like they’re in their 80s or 90s, with walkers, barely able to function, and no one taking care of this large group of people. And so in some ways, this is not Gober’s own interpretation, but certainly how some of his work was read, and interpreted by others.  




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