Sam Messer

Hell Hurts

November 30 – December 22, 2012

Press Release

GASSER GRUNERT³ is pleased to present the first exhibition of Sam Messer with the gallery. The new project space moved from the cubed moving truck into the front west-room of Klemens Gasser and Tanja Grunert, at 524 West 19th Street. Sam Messer, Hell Hurts will open on Friday, November 30th, from 6 to 8PM and end Saturday, December 22nd, 2012.


1989, Sam Messer trekked through the Viruga mountains in Zaire in search of silverback gorillas. After several days of climbing in the dense jungle, Messer had begun to doubt he would ever see one when abruptly a male silverback the size of a double-wide refrigerator appeared in the path before him. Stifling his instinct to run, Messer and his guide followed the silverback to his extended family of three female gorillas and a half dozen infants. Messer spent the remainder of the day drawing them. One of the babies touched Messer’s baldhead and turned to look at its mother in amazement. Another stole Messer’s pencil and all the other infants chased him, wildly chattering. The silverback sat motionless watching Messer’s every move. They were a family. It was profound.


This religious experience stayed with Messer and the image of the praying gorilla began to appear in his work. A year later while driving through the bayous of Louisiana, Messer, stunned by the religious signs nailed to trees, thought of his praying gorilla and knew he’d found its title, “Hell Hurts.”

—Eleanor Gaver


Sam Messer’s beseeching, tumescent, wry Gorilla Man is the dynamic image of the human animal or the animal human. Although clearly half-beast and half-man, Messer inverts the traditional opposition of Western philosophy: it is supposed to be reason and the mind (the head) that conquers the animal passions located in the unruly body. The kneeling creature is man below and gorilla above. Evolutionary ideas are also turned upside down in this bewildering being.

Didn’t human beings evolve from apes? Wouldn’t convention dictate that a man’s head emerge from a monkey’s body? But the longer one looks at the gorilla’s hopeful, urgent expression the more moving and human it becomes. Gorilla Man is our reflected image.

—Siri Hustvedt


Gorilla Man is simultaneously hilarious and reverential, capable of eliciting broad smiles and deep chills. It’s exciting to see Messer’s portraits — which have always been his strongest work—move away from the canvas and subject. This is a sculpture of the viewer.

—Jonathan Safran Foer


Samuel Messer’s metamorphosis, Gorilla Man, confounds traditional dichotomies—earthly and transcendent, bête-machine and soul, id and superego, primitive and civilized—with an arresting power that allows us to reimagine the continuing transformations of that dynamic creature, our praying, priapic, hybrid selves.

—George Makari, Professor of Psychiatry, Weill Medical College of Cornell University.


Samuel Messer’s Gorilla Man overturns traditional views of transcendence as a movement from the animal to the human. In doing so, his hybrid enacts a hilarious yet pointed critique that signifies an upending of traditional evolutionary homilies while setting forth asignifying challenges regarding the meaning of this invalidated hierarchy in which even a classical male body, with its animalistic priapic energies fully intact, can no longer affirm the Renaissance-era standard of serving as an adequate measure for all things. Messer’s Gorilla Man thus enacts a Deleuzean-type encounter that challenges representational truisms and disrupts traditional human-centered hierarchies, even as it encourages us to rethink assumed differences and similarities between human and animal traits.

—Robert Hobbs