The Verse’s Jake Francis tells us what he thought about Gilbert & George’s exhibition at Brighton Museum & Gallery.
THOU SHALT FIGHT CONFORMISM
THOU SHALT MAKE USE OF SEX
THOU SHALT CREATE ARTIFICIAL ART
These are just three of the ten commandments that Gilbert and George implore upon you when entering their festival-affiliated exhibition at the Brighton Museum and Gallery. Amongst these demands of playful indiscretions and semi-optimistic soundbites, the viewer will find themselves in a cathedral of degradation, humour, and iconoclasm. The staples of the Gilbert and George experience.
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this eccentric Turner-Prize winning duo, their fifty-year partnership is one that has consistently captured the attention of the British art scene; their lifestyle being as widely speculated and analysed as their trademark picture-scapes (or ‘sculptures’, as the pair insists they be called). Designing their entire careers and aesthetic judgements on London’s East End – where the two have lived in Fournier Street, Spitalfields since 1968, both Gilbert and George personify the depth that artists can achieve within the partnership, the literal ‘self’ as expression, and anti-institutional rhetoric. It is within this exhibition here in Brighton, half a century into their ‘residency’ of London life (both domestically and artistically), that one can consider the brevity of their investigation into the laws of art, social strife, and the multi-cultural communities that our capital is home to, both now and then.
Throughout the exhibition, the trademark ‘object’ of G&G is dominant – the ‘photo-grid-sculptures’. Each highly-coloured and visually erratic arrangement of frames appears to stand as a reminiscence of an anti-elitist stain-glassed window. The cheap black frames cutting into the image like an IKEA version of the Sainte-Chapelle. Each room harbours at least one of these vast technicolour landscapes; Light Headed (1991) and Crusade (1980) stand as prominent examples of Gilbert and George’s ability to change their style; from pure surreality to old-hat portraiture as appropriation and criticism for the traditionally established.
This theme of the playful and wonderland-like imagery continues time and time again. The viewer is exposed to the questioning nature of religion and its symbols in Faith Drop (1991), whilst simultaneously being presented with the cartoonish-colours of an 8-foot turd in the aptly named In the Shit (1997). It soon becomes clear that, despite the consistency of Gilbert and George’s presence within the majority of their dystopian-imagery, the patterns end there; the only absolutes on offer are those of wilful indignation, garish charm, and gonzo subjectivity. The paradigms of life and art are one and the same in Gilbert and George’s images. Each one standing as a totem of defiance to the elitist rules of visual culture. They serve as proof that art can be for all and by all, no matter what stimulates.
On the whole, Gilbert and George’s style of personal investigation and expression is not one that will suit all. It is however endearingly self-aware, unapologetically empathetic, and boldly executed. Most artists write five-hundred words in a summary of their practice, Gilbert and George only need eighteen:
THOU SHALT NOT KNOW EXACTLY WHAT THOU DOST, BUT THOU SHALT DO IT
THOU SHALT GIVE SOMETHING BACK
‘Artist Rooms: Gilbert & George’ is open until the 2nd September at Brighton Museum and Gallery. Individuals aged 25 and under have free entry. Entrance is charged at £3.50 for Brighton and Hove residents aged 27 and over.