50 Uncanny Artworks

Pop surrealists and lowbrow artists owe a debt of gratitude to Margaret Keane — painter of melancholic, saucer-eyed little girls. Tim Burton’s Keane biopic Big Eyes, in theaters December 25, tells the story of the tumultuous relationship Keane had with husband Walter, who took credit for her work. Amy Adams plays the artist, who struggles against her husband (played by Christoph Waltz) for control of her art. “I was as sad as that painting,” Keane said in a recent interview with Eye on the Bay, pointing to one of her famous works. “I was thinking, ‘What is all this about? Why is life so sad?’” The world-weary waifs in Keane’s paintings are doll-like and uncanny. Freud defined the uncanny as the “unhome,” or the opposite of familiar. Keane’s girls feel too fragile for this world. Here is a treasury of other artworks whose uncanny appeal has fascinated and frightened, capturing a sense of otherness, wonder, and disquiet.

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Robert Gober, Untitled (Leg)

From a 1989 interview with Gober in BOMB Magazine:

Craig Gholson: Your studio is across from a graveyard. Would you consider yourself obsessed by death?

Robert Gober: You make it sound pejorative.

CG: What brought that to mind was that the sinks sometimes look like tombstones, they have a tombstone curve to them. And in fact, Two Partially Buried Sinks is basically a grave. “To sink” is a downward motion. The doorway pieces are essentially passages from one room to another, which could read as from life to death.

RG: For the most part, the objects that I choose are almost all emblems of transition; they’re objects that you complete with your body, and they’re objects that, in one way or another, transform you. Like the sink, from dirty to clean; the beds, from conscious to unconscious; rational thought to dreaming; the doors transform you in the sense that you were speaking of, moving from one space through another. But about being obsessed with death, it sounds a bit . . . depressed.