ART FOR ALL
We want Our Art to speak across the barriers of knowledge directly to People about their Life and not about their knowledge of art. The twentieth century has been cursed with an art that cannot be understood. The decadent artists stand for themselves and their chosen few, laughing at and dismissing the normal outsider. We say that puzzling, obscure and form-obsessed art is decadent and a cruel denial of the Life of People.
(excerpt from What Our Art Means by Gilbert & George)
Gilbert & George are amongst the most radical and subversive artists working today. They began working together in 1967 when they met while studying at St Martins College of Art, London. It was during an early work that they stumbled over the fact that they, themselves, are the art. "We are the art and the artist" they would claim from then on. From their revolutionary Living Sculptures they progressed onto huge full colour photographic pieces. Whether Gilbert & George appear as part of the picture either naked, or semi naked or dressed in matching three button suits their work is easily distinguishable and clearly identifiable.
They have always adhered to the manifesto of Art For All. So it's strange but perhaps not surprising that they chose to exhibit their latest collection of pictures, The Rudimentary Pictures, not in the art centres of London but in Milton Keynes. Besides the London art scum are probably too busy with the upcoming Turner Prize - an award Gilbert & George won in 1986. Milton Keynes has proved to be an inspired choice. The huge gridlike boulevards of Milton Keynes punctuated by roundabouts appear to reflect the huge gridlike structures and magnified spherical areas of a Gilbert & George photo-piece.
Unsurprisingly given Gilbert & George's past history controversy was never going to be far away. And it arrived in the form of a gallery raid by the police. It appears that some of the kind people of Milton Keynes were upset at the male nudity on display in some of the pictures - even though the female nude has long been a pivotal figure in art history. A sign warning of 'adult themes that may be considered provocative and challenging' seems to have rectified the situation. When we visited on a Sunday afternoon there were plenty of children in the gallery gawking at Gilbert & Georges' oversized genitals.
As impoverished students they lived in London's East End where they continue to live to this day. The area around Spitalfields and Fournier Street, where they are a familiar and distinctive sight, acts as a microcosm of the world, it is Gilbert & George's universe that inspires them and informs their world view. It is on their doorstep but it could be anywhere. Some of the pictures - such as Mark Owen Sucks Lee's Cock - are directly lifted from the graffiti sprayed around the neighbourhood. Then there's the paint daubed Fuck All Nazis - an accusation that's been unfairly leveled at Gilbert & George from sections of the British establishment.
The work of Gilbert & George has always addressed issues and themes that affect and are within us all: life, love, hope, fear, sexuality, money and uh, chewing gum. They deal with the complexities of life and in doing so these visionary artists are helping to form a new morality. As their work got both cleaner and clearer in design and message the elements comprising the pictures got dirtier. They were quite literally dealing with shit. Of course, no-one can forget their infamous Naked Shit pictures that they exhibited in 1995. Those elements are still used today together with other human elements such as blood, sweat, sperm, tears in their work. In Their Element is another scatological classic featuring a double naked Gilbert & George over a background of magnified flies, bird droppings and gum. Or The Flying Shit Wheel of Death featuring 8 splattered bird droppings with a dead pigeon as its axle.
Some of my favourite pictures featured in The Rudimentary Pictures are based on maps. Naked Cemetery featuring a declothed Gilbert & George over major London cemeteries - it is quite literally The Naked and the Dead. The hidden sexuality of London is revealed in Love Spunk detailing street and place names that incorporate the word love, or Sex City featuring place names and streets that feature forms of sexuality. There's even one called Kink with with vague references to mild perversions. Other map based pictures include Money City detailing major financial areas in their locale. Or Money Sweat another wheel based picture. This time each spoke is spearheaded by a £1.00 coin while the axle perhaps representing the share that we earn for our hard earned cash is a measly 10 pence. It is our sweat, their money.
In total there are 33 new Gilbert & George pictures on display in three galleries. If you can make the journey to Milton Keynes you should, as this is an excellent exhibition not to be missed.
Admission is free, and various merchandise including posters, t-shirts and postcards are available to buy.
Gilbert & George The Rudimentary Pictures runs until 9 January 2000. It then travels to Los Angeles, where it exhibits at the Gagosian Gallery, 456 North Camden Drive, Beverly Hills, California
A major Gilbert & George retrospective is now exhibiting at Ormeau Baths Gallery, Belfast until January 15 2000.
Visit the official Gilbert & George site at:
Visit the MK Gallery site at: http://www.mkgallery.org