Exhibitions: Gilbert & George

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    Gilbert & George

    • Dates: October 3, 2008 through January 11, 2009
    • Collections: Contemporary Art
    • Location: This exhibition is no longer on view in Morris A. and Meyer Schapiro Wing and Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Gallery, 4th and 5th Floors
    • Description: Gilbert & George. [10/03/2008-01/11/2009]. Installation view.
    • Citation: Brooklyn Museum. Digital Collections and Services (DIG_E_2008_Gilbert)
    • Source: born digital
    • Related Links: Main Exhibition Page
    Exhibition Didactics ?
    • Gilbert & George
      Gilbert & George place themselves, their thoughts, and their feelings at the center of their art. Almost all of the images they use in their art are gathered within the half mile or so surrounding their home in London’s East End, where they have lived for forty years. Yet their pictures capture a far broader human experience, encompassing an astonishing range of emotions and themes, from rural idylls to gritty images of a decaying world; from fantastical, brightly colored panoramas to raw examinations of humanity stripped bare; from sex advertisements to expressions of religious fundamentalism.

      George was born in Devon in 1942. Gilbert was born in Italy in 1943. They met in 1967 as sculpture students at St. Martins School of Art, London, where they exhibited together and soon began to create art together. They are perhaps most renowned for their revolutionary expansion of the concept of sculpture, which they redefined not as the making of objects but rather as an art that incorporates the entirety of lived experience; hence they adopted the identity of “Living Sculptures” in both their art and their daily lives, becoming not only creators but also the art itself. In addition, they were instrumental in reintroducing recognizable content into the practice of the fine arts. The art world of the 1960s and 1970s was dominated by mostly abstract and minimal art. By choosing to create figurative pictures, Gilbert & George brought realism back as both format and subject matter.

      All the media of Gilbert & George’s art are represented in this exhibition. The installation was designed by the artists themselves, responding to the architectural layout of the Brooklyn Museum’s galleries. Although the presentation is not chronological, the contours of their art’s thematic and formal evolution are evident in the galleries. Thematically, the earliest pieces made by Gilbert & George as emerging artists in their youth deal with romantic, idyllic notions of becoming an artist. The next period of creation coincides with their move into their long-time home at 12 Fournier Street in East London in 1967 and the immediately following years, when they were renovating the house and their focus was turned inward. This was also the period when they were exploring the excesses arising out of their inner emotions and feelings as artists. Once they were settled in their home, however, they turned to the immediate surroundings outside the house. The tough realities of urban life appear in their pictures, including the area’s poverty, its grandeur, its prostitutes, its ethnic diversity, and its many forms of religious practice.

      While Gilbert & George’s subject matter continues to reflect frank observations from their daily lives, the techniques of their creation have changed drastically over the years. Their earliest black-and-white pictures were manually developed and printed and were limited in size by the available paper. When the artists decided to introduce color into their art—first red, then yellow—it was applied by hand. Even after incorporating further colors in 1980, they continued to color each picture by hand. However, the development of digital technology has profoundly changed their art. Images made with the aid of digital technology are manipulated and layered in ways that once were possible only in their imagination. Their art has become increasingly sophisticated and monumental over the years.

      What has remained consistent throughout their forty-year career is their absolute artistic integrity—their candid scrutiny of our human condition and their deep commitment to freedom of speech. This uncompromising quality can make some people uncomfortable when looking at their art. However, their aim is not to shock. “Shocking is a media idea,” they say. “It is not an artist idea. Our pictures are not attacking or provoking, but confronting and exploring.”

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