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.”
March 4, 2008
The Brooklyn Museum will be the final venue of an international tour of the first retrospective in more than twenty-five years of work by the internationally acclaimed artistic team Gilbert & George. On view from October 3, 2008, through January 22, 2009, Gilbert & George comprises of more than sixty works produced since 1970, among them more than a dozen that will be seen only in the Brooklyn presentation, including a site-specific work created especially for the Museum’s fifth-floor Rotunda.
The exhibition was organized by Tate Modern, London, with the support and collaboration of the artists, who consider this to be the definitive presentation of their work. It traces their stylistic and emotional evolution through their pictures and works in other media, ranging from large-scale drawing installations from the early 1970s to postcard pieces, to ephemera, dating back to the 1960s. The Brooklyn presentation is supported by Altria Group, Inc.
Gilbert and George met in 1967 while students at St. Martin’s Art School in London. They began working as a team, developing a uniquely recognizable style both in their pictures and in their presentations of themselves as living sculptures. Working as a team for more than forty years they developed a new format that combined art and photography through a unique production process. Most of their work is produced in series and created especially for the space in which it is first exhibited.
Since 1974 Gilbert and George have used a grid system to create their works, which are now developed with the use of sophisticated digital editing techniques. In the early 1980s they began to introduce bold colors in their series of pictures, with one or more works in each group that were created on a monumental scale. All works in a series share common motifs and conceptual and formal elements. The artists’ work, which is subversive, controversial, and provocative, considers the entire cosmology of human experience and explores such themes as faith and religion, sexuality, race and identity, urban life, terrorism, superstition, AIDs-related loss, aging, and death. The works in the exhibition have been loaned from public and private collections in North America and Europe.
Included in the exhibition will be selections from the Ginkgo Pictures series which was part of the presentation that represented the United Kingdom at the 2005 Venice Biennale; examples from the 1974 Cherry Blossom series: Finding God, 1982, a complex grid featuring images of the artists, several young men, and a cross; and more recent works, among them triptych from the Six Bomb Pictures, created for the inaugural presentation of the exhibition at the Tate Modern, this work was intended by the artists to be seen as modern townscapes reflecting the daily exposure in urban life to bomb threats and terror alerts.
Gilbert was born in San Martino, Italy, in 1943. He studied at the Wolkenstein School of Art, the Hallenstein School of Art, and the Munich Academy of Art. George was born in Devon, England, in 1942 and studied at the Dartington Adult Education Centre and the Dartington Hall College of Art, as well as at the Oxford School of Art. Both attended St. Martin’s School of Art in London. For the past several decades they have lived and worked in East London in a house on Fournier Street that they have said is, in many ways, a part of their art.
The exhibition was organized by Tate Modern, London where it was curated by Jan Debbaut, former Director of Collections at Tate, and Ben Borthwick, Assistant Curator. The Brooklyn presentation is coordinated by Judy Kim, Curator of Exhibitions.
Gilbert & George is organized by Tate Modern in association with the Brooklyn Museum.
Gilbert & George: Complete Pictures, a comprehensive, illustrated, two-volume catalogue featuring 1,479 plates with an in-depth analysis of the Gilbert & George oeuvre by the art historian Rudi Fuchs, accompanies the exhibition. In addition, there is a 200-page exhibition catalogue produced by Tate Publishing that features essays by Jan Debbaut, curator; Ben Borthwick, assistant curator at Tate Modern; Michael Bracewell, novelist and cultural commentator; and Marco Livingstone, art historian.
Additional support is provided by James Chanos, Lehmann Maupin Gallery, Sonnabend Gallery, Francis Greenburger, Shelley Fox Aarons and Philip E. Aarons, Howard Wolfson, and other generous donors.
The Brooklyn Museum presentation is one of three in North America. Other venues included the de Young Museum, San Francisco (February-May 2008); the Milwaukee Art Museum (June-September 2008); Castello de Rivoli, Turin (October 2007-January 2008); Haus der Kunst, Munich (June-September, 2007); and Tate Modern (February-May 2007).