My friend John and I visited the Art Institute Modern Wing last weekend. It was my first visit since the Modern Wing has opened so there was much for me to see and to be excited about. By far, my favorite exhibit was Robert Gober's Untitled 1989-96, which John affectionately named, Wedding Dress, Kitty Litter.
At first glance, I was confused. There was an empty wedding dress in the middle of a very empty room which was covered with yellow wallpaper and a few bags of cat litter neatly lining each wall of the room. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that the wallpaper was repeatedly covered with a peacefully sleeping man and a violent hanging.
It was then that I was completely confused, albeit intrigued, and needed to read the description posted on the wall:
The painful imagery depicted on the wallpaper of this 1989 installation was meant as a reminder of fate--the ugly and unforgettable reminder of the United States' history. By putting this image on endlessly repeating wallpaper, I made an attempt to say, metaphorically, that this was not an isolated event and that in ways it has become one background.
The sculpture of the wedding dress is a vase waiting to be filled. It represents the supposed white purity that often triggered and justified the violence depicted on the walls. It also represents a vessel that is ready to be filled with all the optimistic hopes and dreams of marriage. And to many Americans, Gay Americans (an estimated 10 percent of our population) it is a reminder of equality denied.
The sculptures of bags of cat litter are the link between the violent imagery and the wedding dress, the metaphorical fulcrum. Cat litter both absorbs the scent of excrement (the wallpaper) and it allows for domestic intimacy (think diapers). It is also a reminder of the sacred vows that those who wear the dress profess--to care for the body of your loved ones "in sickness and in health, till death do us part."
- Robert Gober
Wow. Intense. There is a lot going on in this exhibit, but it all comes together rather beautifully and uniquely. I love the idea of the empty wedding dress representing the hopes and dreams of marriage. The depiction of the white man peacefully and comfortably sleeping in bed while the black man hangs from a tree is both disturbing and eye-opening.
If you haven't already, I recommend heading to the Modern Wing of the Art Institute to take in all of the incredible new exhibits, making sure to spend a little time taking in Robert Gober's extraordinary exhibit. While you're there, watch the art goer's reactions as they realize what they are participating in.
And no art museum trip is complete without taking photos of yourself and friends as part of the art: