The installation Untitled (1995–1997) by Robert Gober (*1954 in Wallingford, USA; lives and works in New York) has been permanently installed on the lower level of Schaulager since its opening in 2003.
In terms of both content and form, Robert Gober's Untitled is a highly complex installation, structured by objects arranged in a cruciform configuration. A cast concrete statue of the Virgin Mary occupies the centre of the room; her arms are outstretched and a culvert pipe pierces her lower body. The hollow pipe directs the gaze to the flight of cedar wood stairs behind the figure, down which a cascade of water pours into the room and floods over the floor before disappearing down a street drain. The rushing noise of the water – the most physically immediate element of the work – can already be heard from a distance. The Madonna also stands on a giant drain grate, cast in bronze. Through the grate, the gaze falls on a tidal pool with naturalistically depicted seaweed, shells, starfish and crabs, and oversized US coins. On either side of the figure, two open leather suitcases rest on two further drain grates, and again the eye is drawn to the ruffled surface of the water below, but this time interrupted by the feet and legs of a man, bearing a swaddled infant.
The sculptures, the significance of water as a life-giving force and an omnipresent element, and the cross-shaped layout of the ensemble, imbue the installation with a sense of the sacred. The work is replete with a multiplicity of visual and auditory clues, alluding to Christian symbolism and the theme of religious belief in ways that disconcert the viewer. The search for determinate meaning proves fruitless, just as the source of the water flowing down the stairs remains unknown.
Originally, Untitled was created as a site-specific installation for a temporary exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. In 1999, the work entered the collection of the Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation.