Gober Exhibition Insults Virgin Mary

When the U.S. Supreme Court was faced with the vexing problem of trying to define obscenity a number of years ago, Justice Potter Stewart made his now-famous remark, “I know it when I see it.”

Unlike Christopher Knight, I am not an art critic, and I certainly make no claim to possess the ability to offer any special evaluation of Robert Gober’s unnamed exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Geffen Contemporary featuring a sculpture of the Blessed Virgin Mary pierced by what looks like a huge hollow screw (“Articles of Faith for This World,” Calendar, Sept. 9). That being said, I do have this observation:

When it comes to garbage being passed off

as art, I cannot define it, but I know it when I see it. After seeing Gober’s work at MOCA, I’d say it fits the bill.


By exploiting the image of the Mother of God, Gober has thus gained entry into the pantheon of vulgar artists who traffic in abusing sacred symbols and offending religious believers. The chief luminary in this hall of fame is, of course, Andres Serrano, who photographed a crucifix in his own urine and called it “Piss Christ.”

Regarding Gober’s work, Knight charitably says, “Dramatically, the Virgin’s midsection has been pierced by a spiraling tube of bronze culvert pipe. . . . Hollow, the conduit makes the sculpture into another cruciform shape. An inescapable image of phallic penetration merges with the mysterious void of her womb.”

Pardon me, but let’s bypass the lofty art critic verbiage and call a spade a spade. The Times’ photograph of the sculpture, worth more than 10,000 euphemisms--intensified by viewing the work personally--is more than self-explanatory.

Honestly, I do not comprehend Gober’s insulting the Blessed Mother. What has she ever done to hurt him?


I suppose he is perfectly free to express his disdain for the Catholic Church and its teachings. About Catholicism, in a Sunday Calendar piece, he said, “I just object to the way it’s taught. I wanted to ventilate that and complicate that, in terms of life.”


I don’t know what that means. Assuming the statement has meaning, why take it out on the Madonna?

I guess my ignorance of high art prevents me from being able to appreciate how profaning the holy and visually raping the virginal can lead to some cathartic resolution of the artist’s pedagogical quarrels with a tradition that has enriched the world for two millenniums.


Quite frankly, I find artists, and others, who desecrate sacred images with absolutely no regard for sensibilities of the people they know they will offend, pretentious, pompous and boorish. Art, which I always thought indicated a certain civility, in their hands becomes a sledge hammer with which to bash other people emotionally.

Knight claimed that Gober’s unusual use of Catholic iconography makes a “trenchant, timely point” about the virgin birth and baptism. If it does, I am sure it is lost on thousands of others as well as on me.

Gober confessed that he has had troubled nights about “using a beloved icon, putting her on a grate, opening her up and piercing her with a pipe,” and well that he should.

After all, when one’s work is a nightmare, it is only just that one should have difficulty sleeping.


Capuchin Franciscan Father Gregory Coiro is director of media relations for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles.