LONDON.- Ben Brown Fine Arts
is presenting an extraordinary group of works by famed British duo Gilbert & George. After meeting at Saint Martins School of Art in London in 1967, Gilbert & George have been creating art together ever since, fully integrating all aspects of their lives into their art, dubbing themselves living sculptures. They reflect upon their revelation to work together over 50 years ago, Art and life became one, and we were the messengers of a new vision. At that moment that we decided we are art and life, every conversation with people became art, and still is.
Gilbert & Georges early work centred around performances and evolved into video, photography, drawing, and collage, typically inserting themselves into their work. The duo take an anti-elitist stance to art and embrace the credo Art for All, as their works confront issues of social injustices, urban turmoil, politics, sex, religion, racism, patriotism and mortality. The East End of London where the duo has been firmly rooted since 1975 and can be seen strolling the streets in their matching tweed suits as they lead an ascetic lifestyle serves as a filter and subject matter for much of their work.
Gilbert & George are most renowned for their large-scale photo-based works, collectively known as The Pictures. In the 1970s they began creating assemblages of black and white photographs, soon arranging them into grid-like structures; by 1974 they incorporated red paint into their work; in the 1980s they introduced other bright colours and photographic techniques into their repertoire and adopted a more stylized and graphic appearance in their work; and by 2000 fully embraced digital technology in their output.
Cock, 1977, is one of 26 works from Gilbert & Georges notorious Dirty Words Pictures series, which juxtaposed obscene words found in street graffiti with disconcerting images of urban unrest and inequity, and was part of an important exhibition at the Serpentine Galleries in 2002. Toast, 1973, is an equally rare and iconic early work, comprised of a zig zag arrangement of slightly blurred black and white photographs of Gilbert and George drinking, as part of a series meant to evoke inebriation and explore the role of alcohol in the lives of artists. George commented on this series, We could see that all the other artists were drinking, but during the day they painted a nice grey square with a yellow line down the side. We thought that was completely fake. Why shouldn't all of life come into your art? The artists drink, but they do sober pictures. So we did drinking sculptures, true to life.
Street Meet, 1982, demonstrating the riot of colour that erupted in their works of the 1980s, comes from a series of photos depicting young men in staged, theatrical poses, casting them as living sculptures. Three, 1984, is a similarly vibrant image of East End youths, poignantly and hauntingly depicted in a classical arrangement. George explained that these photo-portraits were meant to counter negative stereotypes, particularly of an art world who couldnt handle works of modern art showing young people from neighbourhoods where they themselves didnt want to live, where they wouldnt even choose to go. Gilbert professed, When using models, we devoted all our power to making them totally beautiful.
The exhibition also includes three dynamic Postcard Art pieces, a body of work commenced in the 1970s and revisited again in 2009, in which Gilbert & George assembled postcards in kaleidoscopic grid arrangements, grouped by both subject matter and formal qualities. New York Times art critic Roberta Smith noted, Modest yet seminal, the postcard pieces show the artists progress from witty nostalgia to seemingly random scrapbook-like arrangements to increasingly striking fusions of form and meaning. Mother, 1981, comes from a series of images of the Royal Family arranged in the formation of a cross, while London Town and State Coach, both 2009, are comprised of postcards, flyers and telephone box cards arranged in a rectangle with a single card in the centre, referencing a sexual symbol utilized by theosophist C. W. Leadbetter.