Gilbert & George

Annie Lee | Mar 2, 2023

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Gilbert & George, born Gilbert Prousch (San Martino in Badia, 1943) and George Passmore (Plymouth, 1942) are a contemporary artist duo.

Gilbert first studied in Italy, at the Selva di Val Gardena School of Art.

In 1967 Gilbert & George met at St. Martin's School of Art in London. Since 1968 they have lived and worked together in London. Anticipatory in choosing the unconventional stage for their talents, they moved to the working-class neighborhood of Spitalfields (which in the 1970s was the slum of London's East End and today is now a hangout par excellence for artists and intellectuals, starting with their followers such as Tracey Emin or the Chapman Brothers) and immediately opposed elite art: they called their home "Art for All" and called themselves "living sculptures."

In 1969 the artists were asked to exhibit at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. From 1972-73 they collaborated with prestigious galleries, London-based Anthony d'Offay, Sonnabend Gallery in New York, and Galerie Konrad Fischer in Düsseldorf. In 1990 the artists produced the work The Cosmological Pictures, which was to be shown in ten different European countries between 1991 and 1993. In 1992 they exhibit, at the Aarhus Museum of Art in Denmark, their most impressive work, New Democratic Pictures. In 2007, London's Tate Modern hosted them for a huge retrospective never before devoted to living artists. Further celebrating their artistic journey will be the awarding of the Lorenzo il Magnifico Lifetime Achievement Prize at the 6th International Biennale of Contemporary Art in Florence.

Their work has long since made a name for itself throughout the world, as evidenced by the major exhibition venues that have hosted it and continue to do so: the National Art Gallery, The Art Museum in Shanghai, Museo d'Arte Moderna in Lugano, the Documenta exhibition-event in Kassel, Kunsthalle in Düsseldorf, Kunsthalle in Bern, Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, MAMbo in Bologna, and the Florence Biennale.

Art for all: that phrase-slogan, used since the origins of their existential-artistic partnership, best summarizes the logic underlying Gilbert & George's artistic activity. The main goal of their work is, from the beginning, to produce art with a strong communicative impact, aimed at overcoming the traditional barriers between art and life and to analyze the human condition in depth. They are therefore interested in filming human experiences of all kinds by investigating the fears, obsessions, and emotions felt by individuals especially when confronted with strong issues such as gender, race, religion, and politics. They themselves, with their lived experience, first subject themselves to such meticulous examination, in a view that sees the artist and the work of art, coinciding: "Being living sculptures is our sap, our destiny, our adventure, our disaster, our life and our light," declare the two artists, pointing to the problem of the relationship between art and life as the backbone of their poetics.

The setting up of the exhibitions is also a fundamental element of their vision of art: the setting up is, in fact, an integral part of the work and is aimed, on the one hand, at disrupting the space especially from the point of view of size and, on the other hand, at demolishing the sacredness of the work, bringing it into life, making it a part of life.

Clarifying the global logic underlying their understanding of art is also the artists' refusal to sign works individually and their adoption of the Gilbert & George "common signature": this indicates not only a rejection of role distinctions, but a profound revision of the concepts of identity and individuality. The choice of the common signature enshrines the universality of an action, the one underlying artistic creation, that rejects individualization and, once again, recalls their motto: "art belongs to everyone."

The beginnings

Since their beginnings in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Gilbert & George have loved to provoke and shake up both critics and public opinion, anticipating by far the entire generation of Young British Artists: their early works are mainly performances, in which they often appear with their faces and hands painted gold, supporting the idea that artists should enter the field personally for what they produce. Also belonging to the beginnings are the large works on paper in which they appear, life-size, in the English countryside immersed in a tranquil, rustic atmosphere, opposite to that which will be experienced in their future works. The close of this first phase of the two artists' activity is marked by the work The General Jungle or Carrying on Sculpting. The work, first shown at the Sonnabend Gallery in New York in the fall of 1971, anticipates a series of themes that would be taken up and reworked in a more articulate and serial way by the two artists in their later phase, which focused on photographic work:

The 1970s

In the first half of the 1970s the two artists began to work predominantly with photography. The subjects of their observation also change: they now turn primarily to the contemporary world, to cities and especially to the great city in which they have chosen to live, London, with its melting pot of cultures, religions, and different realities, with its violence, with the dissatisfactions and frustrations of the humanity that populates it. The work that marks the beginning of this new phase is Cherry blossom picture, made in 1974. Bloody life, from 1975, on the other hand, shows the entry of a new element that will be repeated again and again in subsequent works: the artists themselves appear, alone or with characters from the street, within the photographic images. The words of the artists themselves, best explain the spirit that accompanied them during that period:

Another symbol proposed very often at that stage is that of the crucifixion, often accompanied by provocative images, which as the two artists state "Is an image of suffering of extraordinary power," an image symbolic of a suffering humanity.

In the same period, alongside such works reflecting on living conditions and malaise in contemporary big cities were more introspective and melancholy works, such as Dusty Corners, with photographs of the bare and desolate interiors of the apartment they bought in a derelict condition on Fournier Street. This phase, which led to works such as Red Morning, Mental, Violence and Hate, was finally abandoned in the late 1970s and especially in the 1980s.

The 1980s and the 1990s

In the 1980s, the photographs, true contemporary mosaics by virtue of their juxtaposed panel construction, took on increasing size and chromaticism. A new theme flanks the classic ones in their works: the fear of AIDS. The disease, which in those years affects many of their homosexual friends, is symbolized in various deliberately unsightly images as something that leads to the total loss of the individual's dignity. Their provocation in that period goes as far as the depiction of excrement. In works such as Shitted and Naked shit pictures the provocative escalation reaches its peak and the artists state, "Basically, there is something religious about the fact that we are made of excrement." The artists' nudity is exposed to indicate a humanity reduced to its essentials, to the mere biology of its microscopic parts. Such reflections lead to the series of works that microscopically depict all biological fluids, from blood to urine, from tears to feces. In a work like Dying Youth, featured in the "Terrae motus" collection at the Reggia di Caserta, the themes of faith (specifically the crucifixion) and violence, explored in the 1970s, are linked to those of corporality and nudity: the image of a naked young man juxtaposed with images of death (two mummified children's faces and a skull) turns out to be a memento mori, a representation of the finiteness of existence.

The last few years

In the latest works, it is London that returns as the protagonist, especially after the terrorist attacks of 2005: once again the great city is, simultaneously, a place of meeting-clash of cultures, a reservoir of possibilities, but also of frustrations, intolerance, anger and death. The Six Bomb Pictures is described by the artists themselves as "the most chilling work to date." Once again, they reaffirm the role of art and the artist, declaring that


  1. Gilbert & George
  2. Gilbert & George
  3. ^ "Ćiasa Nadè. – SMACH". 27 September 2013. Archived from the original on 27 September 2013.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  4. ^ "Gilbert & George". Guggenheim Collection. Archived from the original on 18 March 2014.
  5. ^ Terrae Motus virtual Exhibition, su
  6. ^ a cura di Livia Velani, Ester Coen, Angelica Tecce, Terrae Motus, La collezione Amelio alla Reggia di Caserta, Skira editore, p. pp.170-171.
  7. Souvent épelé à tort Proesch
  8. Video bij Youtube

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