Like some of the best contemporary art exhibitions, “The Heart is Not a Metaphor” aims for a fun viewing experience. Even those who do not consider themselves art-world denizens can still find enjoyment in Robert Gober’s new exhibit, currently on view at the Museum of Modern Art.
Covering 40 years of the surrealist’s career, the retrospective is spread out across a surprising number of rooms. The exhibition certainly is not boring. Each room is an exciting change from the last and at the end of the exhibition viewers will feel as though they have come full circle in the exploration of the artist’s life.
Gober does not shy away from topics of race, terrorism, sexuality and what it means to be human. “Hanging Man/Sleeping Man,” a wallpaper that covers the walls of an entire room juxtaposes images of a sleeping white man with images of a lynched black man. The thought-provoking impact of this installation is rare for contemporary art. It is works like this that make “The Heart Is Not a Metaphor” appealing to all audiences — those who can identify the nuances of the art and those who just want to see something interesting.
Gober and MoMA collaborated to bring the revolutionary exhibit together. Certain pieces require the creation of smaller rooms, drilling through the floor and the addition of elements onto the outside of the building. There is no shortage of spectacular tactics that hold the attention of the audience. The range of pieces is quite impressive as well, from a few inches of a rag to six-foot-long cigars.
The sketches directly related to the physical pieces in the gallery are also exciting. One can see the planning and forethought that went into a number of the pieces in the exhibit, constituting a peek behind the curtains rarely afforded in most galleries.
The most powerful piece in the exhibit is Gober’s tribute to 9/11. Adorning the walls of a makeshift chapel are newspapers from Sept. 12, 2001 and drawn on them are bodies embracing each other passionately. With this piece, Gober asserts himself not only as a man who understands the weight of the events going on in the world, but also as a person who realizes the need to live an enjoyable life in spite of tragedy.
It is this idea of a life in chaos that runs through the exhibition. A first viewing may feel overwhelming, full of disconnected pieces that are weird to a fault. It is only upon closer inspection of individual pieces that one comes to appreciate Gober’s strange exploration of what it means to be alive. Gober takes the ideas that he feels deserve attention and projects them through everyday objects and images. Because of that, “The Heart is Not a Metaphor” is one of the most important museum shows of the season.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Oct. 8 print edition. Email Jack Barker at [email protected]