Detroit-born, Dallas-based artist Jeff Gibbons’s varied artistic pursuits and philosophical perspective, incorporating found objects, movement, and sound, coalesce in an amusing and engaging sculpture which has recently joined the Nasher Sculpture Center collection. The work considers an episode of great personal significance and even greater implications for humanity and, like many of Gibbons’s sculptures, B.O.B.O. (Boat O.A.R. (Oceanic Auto-Reclaimer)) is a functioning machine.
B.O.B.O. is composed of a variety of objects oriented abnormally: an air organ is propped on its side atop a chair tipped on its front. A taut string supports a tube extending upward from the side of the air organ and winds its way through the keys, depressing one, which draws an intermittent low note from the organ, suggesting the thrumming of engines and recalling movie scores meant to build drama and suspense. The air from the organ keeps a ball spinning at the top of the air tube. The ball has two faces drawn on it, one smiling, one frowning, cycling randomly through a range of suggested emotions, like the low-fi version of the myriad emoticons on a smartphone—happy, sad, and whatever feelings sideways or upside down smiling and frowning faces might suggest. The power cord on the floor traces a looping line from outlet to organ, contrasting with the straight lines of the tightly pulled string supporting the air tube. A mushroom mounted to it seems to sprout from the back of the organ. The front of the organ sports a rendering of floating ice factories that Gibbons made to illustrate his idea for an invention to help counteract global warming and create more fresh drinking water. The idea expanded upon earlier sculptures he had made using refrigeration equipment that grew ice in beautiful forms and patterns. It also serves here as a remnant of a poignant episode in his life, as described by the artist:
This piano is a boat is a glacier is a life is a worry is a piano. Several years ago, I designed machines whose purpose is to create glaciers while simultaneously creating fresh water from salt water. I spoke about the project at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington D.C., and sought a patent, but I was too broke to afford one and too disconnected from anyone who could help. I just saw someone get a substantial award for creating the same thing several years after. So it goes.
The title for the work, B.O.B.O. (Boat O.A.R. (Oceanic Auto-Reclaimer)), is also the name Gibbons gave to his invention and underscores the affection he typically places on inanimate objects, activating and personifying them—cast-off, downtrodden objects as stand-ins for human experiences. The sculpture and the project to which it refers also point to a faith in humanity that persistently alternates with antipathy, like the bobbing, spinning faces on the ball. The sculpture encapsulates the range of feeling around the intractable problem of climate change, recognizing that the grandiose solution proposed (and pursued by another), could save the world or simply be another well-meaning folly that ultimately does more harm than good.
The work by Gibbons is a significant addition to the Nasher Collection, continuing the Nasher’s acquisition of important works by Texas artists and its more recent support of artists in the region. The work expands the lineage of Dada, represented in the collection by the founding presence of Jean Arp, and adds to the Nasher’s growing collection of found object constructions—one of the most significant advances in art of the last 100 years—running through the collection from Joan Miró to Elliott Hundley and including Texas artists Jim Love and David McManaway. It also resonates with works by Jonathan Borofsky that incorporate sound, motion, and a sense of whimsy.
Image: Jeff Gibbons (b. 1982). B.O.B.O. (Boat O.A.R. (Oceanic Auto-Reclaimer)), 2020. Air organ, chair, ball, mushroom, foam, digital print, tacks, matchbook, string, 75 x 80 x 17 in. (190.5 x 203.2 x 43.2 cm). Nasher Sculpture Center, acquired with generous support from Charles Dee Mitchell. Photo: Kevin Todora.