Gilbert and George’s “Flying Shit”
Well, I suppose we need the bad exhibitions to enhance our opinions of what we think to be good exhibitions. However, I really could have missed Gilbert & George’s Major Exhibition at the Tate Modern today. The exhibition, which runs from February 15th to May 7th 2007, is the largest retrospective of any artist to be held at the Tate Modern. For 10 pounds (£8 concession), you can walk alongside walls covered with loud and overly-imposing eyesores. Besides the aesthetic nightmare, I found myself saying the four (maybe four-and-a-half) words commonly muttered at contemporary art shows: “I don’t get it”. So, in an attempt to understand the content of this visual repugnance I capitulated and read the guide. This was definitely a last resort as art shouldn’t need to be translated through guides.
If you’re not familiar with the artists, Gilbert was born in Italy in 1943, and George in Devon in 1942. They met during a sculpture class in London and soon began to sculpt together. The couple looks average in every way and they are always seen wearing suits and ties as if matching attire is their crazy gimmick. According to ‘the guide,’ “They adopted the identity of ‘living sculptures’ in both their art and their daily lives, becoming not only creators, but also the art itself.” Apparently, this is the rationale why almost every image is a self-portrait. Their dry, corporate appearance is contradicted by their 12-year-old-boy personalities that find ‘pee-pee’ and ‘poo-poo’ hilarious, and even more worrying, aesthetically and artistically ground-breaking.
Each image seemed to follow the same recipe. They all resembled stained-glass church windows (even though the images themselves were produced on photo paper) and had a crucifix of some other religious reference. This was then juxtaposed by abjection, often in the form of a naked boy, random excrement, blood, or other distasteful matter. Each image also was not complete without a portrait of the two ‘artists’ and a title which was written right across the image itself. For example, one of the photos was called “Shitters” depicting shit. Another was named “Our Spunk (1997)” depicting (need I explain). Finally, some images amalgamated their subject matter including the piece “Spunk, Blood, Piss, Shit (1996)”.
I took the time to further research their art in hopes to understand it. After all they are famous for their slogan “Art for All” which apparently reflects their artistic mandate. The following are quotes which they have used to describe their work:
Gilbert and George’s “In the Piss”
“Now we use more colours, but in each picture they mean something different…They can be symbolic or they can be atmospheric or emotional…It’s more a part of our own language, really – part of our vocabulary”
“We wanted to dream a kind of paradise [with] those brightly lit human beings that we compare to flowers”
“It’s him, from head to foot. It’s very haunting. Because you think it’s a mouth, with an areshole in the middle, but in fact it’s a belly button.”
“Fundamentally, there’s something religious about the fact that we’re made of shit. We consist of the stuff. It’s our nourishment, it belongs to us, we’re part of it, and we show this in a positive light.”
Needless to say, I remain bewildered. Gilbert and George have not succeeded in creating ‘art for all’ as it definitely wasn’t for me. I found their images and ideas to be asinine, generic and unoriginally anarchical. Personally, I think ‘abject art’ or art that includes repugnant or vile subject matter to be rather interesting if done in an intelligent manner. For instance, the work of Andrea Serranno comes to mind in his works such as “Blood and Semen III” (which was used for a Metallica album cover) and “Piss Christ.”
Andres Serranno’s “Blood and Semen III”
As depicted on Metallica’s ‘Load’ Album
Andres Serranno’s “Piss Christ”
I did not find Gilbert and George’s retrospective at all intriguing and find their talents to be child-like and completely over-rated. I hope my next entry will manage to encourage you to go to a show! I highly recommend the rest of the Tate Modern as their permanent collection is impressive and it remains my favorite gallery in London.