Gilbert & George

Shitty Naked Human World 1994

18. 12. 1994 — 12. 3. 1995


Gilbert Proesch was born in 1943 in the Italian Dolomites. He studied at the art schools of Wolken­stein and Hallein in Austria and at the Akademie der Kunst in Munich. George Pasmore, born in Totmes, Devon, England, in 1942, studied at the Dartington Adult Education Centre, Devon, Dartington Hall College of Art and Oxford School of Art in London. They met in 1967 as students at St. Martin’s School of Art in London. Since 1968 they have lived and worked together in London. In 1986 they were awarded the presti­gous Turner Prize at the Tate Gallery in London

The art of Gilbert & George, in which they themselves parti­ci­pate as living beings, is unique. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, they presented themselves as works of art. In their perfor­mances ‘The Singing Sculpture and The Living Sculpture’, they sang the same song for hours on end and repeated the same movements, until the song lost all meaning, and the viewer perceived nothing but the ’sculp­tures’ Gilbert & George, in their grey suits with hands and faces painted silver.

“To be with art is all we ask”, they declared. It was their objective to become artists of their own tim, artists of the present day: “We have to devise a vocabu­lary which reflects this age. We don’t want to hide our weakness, our sexual behaviour, our thinking, our suffering, and all that belongs to mankind”. They moved to the working-class district of Spital­fields, where they found most of the motifs of their art, called their house ‘Art for All’, and invariably wore identical tweed suits in subdued colours, which gave a note of serious­ness to their appearance.

Gilbert & George made their first black-and-white photo piece in 1971. It consisted of indivi­dual photo­graphs, arranged on the wall to create a sort of assem­blage. From 1974 onwards, they empha­sized the expres­sive content by intro­du­cing a red tint.

The series ‘Mental, Dirty Words and Red Morning’ of 1976 and 1977, were overtly about neglect, power and oppres­sion, religion, graffiti and other manifes­ta­tions of cultural and urban disin­te­gra­tion. In formal terms, the indivi­dual photo­graphs are closely juxta­posed, but each remains an autono­mous image. Since 1980, each work has contained (mostly) a single image, held together by the grid formed by the frames of the indivi­dual rectan­gular segments.

In 1981–82 they began to use vivid colours to unders­core the narrative cartoon style and the expli­citly sexual themes of their work. Personal fears and concerns, as in the series ‘Modern Fears and Modern Faith’ now took the place of overri­ding social subjects. These works evolved into long and often enormous friezes, which show photo­graphs of the artists side by side with young men: peudo-family pictures, with stereo­typed gestures.

In 1986 Gilbert & George reverted to a political theme – that of class conflict – with the tryptych ‘Class War, Militant, Gateway’, more than 25-metres long, in which youths of different races fight shoulder on shoulder: “We are not here to congra­tu­late society for how it is. We want to see change. Impro­ve­ment and advancement”.

In 1989 they produced the series ‘The Cosmo­lo­gical Pictures’. Here, youths, as perceived by Gilbert & George in their own surroun­dings, become the central figures: teenage boys with modish clothes and hairstyles, appar­ently self-assured and yet somehow forlorn. In 1990 a major Gilbert & George exhibi­tion was shown in Moscow. In the ‘New Democratic Pictures’ of 1991 the artists showed themselves alone or with male models: all (the young men, but also Gilbert & George) seem to be helplessly searching for a way to survive in an ever-more-menacing environ­ment. In 1992 Gilbert & George made a body of new works which travelled to Beijing and Shanghai in 1993; they were among the first contem­porary Western artists to be shown in China.

In January of this year, Gilbert & George started to work on a new series, completed only a short time ago. They call the results “the most emotio­nally moving pictures the have ever made. “Human excreta were already a theme in some earlier wors: here, shaped excreta dominate the scene. Gilbert & George themselves, who appear as prominent, naked figures, express an unpre­ce­dented range of human feelings, including affection, need of support, subjec­tion and fear. For the first time anywhere, the Kunst­mu­seum Wolfsburg will present a selection of these works.

Although not intended as a retro­spec­tive, this exhibi­tion will afford an overview of Gilbert & George’s artistic evolution since 1977. In the main hall of the Kunst­mu­seum Wolfsburg, some of fifty works, measuring up to 5 x 11 metres, will be shown in severel tiers. A film programme will present records of the artist’s perfor­mances, a documen­tary on Gilbert & George, and the film ‘The World of Gilbert & George’.

Gilbert & George have repeatedly pushed their work to the borders of bad taste and porno­graphy, and have deliber­ately violated social conven­tions that continues to this day. They say of themselves: “We are: Unhealthy, middle-aged, dirty-minded, depressed, cynical, empty, tired-brained, seedy, rotten, dreaming, badly behaved, ill-mannered, arrogant, intel­lec­tual, self-pitying, honest, successful, hard-working, thoughtful, artistic, religious, fascistic, blood-thirsty, teasing, destruc­tive, ambitious, colourful, damned, stubborn, perverted and good. We are artists”.