Last Orders

September 1st, 2008

It’s the last gasp of the Gilbert & George exhibition at Milwaukee Art Museum, and my farewell to the blogosphere. Thank you to anyone and everyone that read these posts, and thanks even more to those people who chose to respond. I have been privileged to run this space for the museum and the artists although I wish for their sake that there had been more activity. I think their work, exhibited so delightfully in Milwaukee, can teach us a good deal about the world today: about loneliness fear death hatred disgust pleasure love spirit community and more. They offer a wide and expansive view of humanity, and, in revealing it in all its intensity, help the rest of us to learn and grow.

Make mine a double!

August 16th, 2008

One strong element of G&G’s work evident in the Milwaukee Art Museum’s current exhibition is their use of the mirror image. This has existed in their work at least since the nineteen-eighties, beginning perhaps with their own repeated and similar gestures, and then becoming a photographic device to create strange plant-forms and monstrous faces. More recently, they have divided and duplicated their own bodies and faces to create weird symmetrical creatures, sometimes with three eyes, two sets of shoulders and four hands. These enantiomorphic beings, recognizably George and obviously Gilbert, but strangely removed and other worldly, sometimes appear pumped-up and broad-chested, at other times slender as stiletto blades. They seem to have arrived with the new century, and occur across many topics from the Hooligan Pictures to the Ginko series, and they make such recent pictures as Bombs and Bombers even more disturbing than they already might be. This is equally true of those 2005 works in which the Crucifix – here a natural visual opportunity – is also distorted through symmetrical mirroring.
With G&G, of course, the reasons for this splitting and doubling may remain for ever a mystery. It could be something as simple as a newly-discovered technique, or as deep as an existential identity crisis. It might extend the double-vision of their heavy-drinking days and mark a fresh phase of their ongoing relationship with each other, or it might be their response to genetic science.
Whether it re-presents the natural symmetry of the human form, the simple mirror of the G and the G, or is some kind of comment on our inability to see ourselves as others see us, I believe these latest works re-invigorate and complicate the fascinating world that Gilbert & George create: anyone got any ideas on what it might mean?

Bad Thoughts, Dirty Words, Modern Rubbish

August 2nd, 2008

In a recent talk on ‘Scandal and Art’ at the Milwaukee Art Museum I described Gilbert & George as heroes of the genre – if scandal can be called a genre. From early in their career, their work was regarded as too ‘strong’ for some tastes. The ‘Magazine Sculpture’ was censored by Studio International in 1970, despite their sunny smiles, presumably because of the outrageous epithets attached to their elegant clothing.
Through the nineteen-eighties and ‘nineties, a number of American artists were indicted, harassed, or excoriated over the nature of their work, and curators were chastised for exhibiting them.
Robert Mapplethorpe’s overt representations of homosexuality caused immense problems for curator Dennis Barrie at the Corcoran Gallery; Andres Serrano’s ambiguous photographs were described as ‘blasphemy’ by one US Senator, and torn up by another; Jock Sturges had his work and equipment confiscated for months by the FBI, on allegations of creating child pornography. These are just a few of the many victims of the so-called ‘culture wars’ of the period.
Yet the current exhibition shows clearly that G&G had, often years before, created shocking works involving bodily fluids, graphic sexual desires, and very young-looking men; as well as evoking God and crucifixion. How did they manage to escape the trials and tribulations suffered by others?

Two Men, One Artist

July 26th, 2008

Before Gilbert & George there were almost no artist collaborators. After them, there have been a few more, but perhaps none who work so closely together or for such an extended length of time.
Often, art is thought of as a particularly solitary occupation; the single-minded imagination of an individual creative genius, working to represent a unique world view.
How can inspiration be shared?
Artistic collaboration is difficult not only because it means giving up these and other common ideas about the nature of the artist, but also because visual art comes as a single product, with a need for compositional unity and internal coherence. It isn’t like film, which almost requires a team. It is also different from a piece of music, which more easily allows for harmonious parts, alternating tempo, etc. Gilbert and George are not Lennon & McCartney.
Yet G&G have such a close understanding that they work as one. Like many long-established couples (it is getting on for forty years now) they can complete each other’s sentences: but there is more to it than familiarity. From the beginning of their career, they have been able to share ideas and processes to present a seamlessly unified vision: they are two quite different men, but they combine to make one artist. It is impossible – for me, at least – to identify George’s input or separate out Gilbert’s bit.
Does anyone out there think they can?

Sex and Gender

July 11th, 2008

One critique of the Gilbert & George exhibition has been that it doesn’t speak to women.
Is this sexism?
As I mentioned in my last posting, the history of art is full of sex – mostly heterosexual and mostly created from a male point of view. It is only very recently – since about the beginning of G&G’s career in fact – that women artists have been actively acknowledged, and only in the last few decades have they begun to even remotely nudge the balance towards greater equality (and many would say there’s still along way to go). But does equality in practice mean equality in representation?
Gilbert & George do not objectify or disparage women in their art: in fact, there are no women to be seen. Does this inevitably mean they and their art are prejudiced against women? The homoerotic nature of some of the pictures on show, in addition to the representation of rent-boys and other of the London dispossessed marks, for many people, a sufficiently bold incursion into new territory.
How far should an artist go to be inclusive?
And if they aren’t does it follow that they demean those they exclude?

Visitors’ responses to Gilbert & George

July 3rd, 2008

Looking at a few of the visitors’ reponses to the G&G show makes it clear how their work generates strong feelings, although these feelings are often quite different, even opposite! The occasional comment deprecates MAM for supporting them and their ideas, yet a few visitors congratulate the gallery for bringing these issues to light. Some viewers react negatively to the provocative subject matter and the forceful graphics, while others salute their bravery and openness. Some folk find their homosexual imagery empowering, others are disgusted. As someone who teaches art history for a living, I can’t help but put this work into the bigger context of picture making over the past few decades, even centuries. There is a lot of sex and violence in most art museums! In the past it was in the service of religious or secular power, and then, for a hundred years or so the feelings and expression of the artist became more important. Gilbert and George came of age in a particular time; after a decade of cool, conceptual art, where the abstract idea had primacy over the fears and phobias of the maker. When they evoked religion and beauty, these were subjects which hadn’t been addressed by contemporary artists for a number of years – and openly homosexual tendencies had not been the subject of art for centuries! And yet none of these are foreign to humanity – and art is meant to be about the human condition, isn’t it? I’d be interested to know what the blogosphere thinks…

Hello bloG&Gosphere

June 8th, 2008

I’m Simon Anderson and I look forward to this, my first experience in blogging. I think it highly appropriate that Gilbert & George should ease my entry into the blogosphere as they helped introduce me into the realm of contemporary art. Their early performance ‘The Singing Sculpture’ also known as ‘Underneath the Arches’ formed the backdrop of a television play which I saw when it was aired in the early 1970’s. It was an unique and intriguing action and I have followed their career with close interest ever since. Although I can’t claim to know them personally, I have been to many exhibitions of their work. I was fortunate enough to see their re-embodiment of the ‘Singing Sculpture’ in New York in the 1990’s, and a few years ago I made a public interview with G&G at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and had a very entertaining time. My hopes for this blog are that it provides a forum for thought-provoking debate, and a context for the ever-developing oeuvre of Gilbert & George.

Introduction | Simon Anderson

May 23rd, 2008

Gilbert and George revolutionized Simon Anderson’s world while he was a student in London during the 1980s. Their raw examination of human experience boldly confronted him with social and public issues.

Now Associate Professor of Art History, Theory and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Anderson continues his fascination with art made to draw people out of the box and beyond the walls of the Museum.

Anderson received his MA and PhD from the Royal College of Art in 1988, he has spoken on radical American art in 1968 and taught a course entitled “… and then they called the Police”. Simon Anderson held a public conversation with Gilbert & George in Chicago in 1999. It’s now time to pick up the conversation were they left off.

Don’t miss Simon Anderson when he takes the blog conversation live and talks at the Milwaukee Art Museum on Art and Scandal: Bad Thoughts, Dirty Words, Modern Rubbish THURSDAY, JULY 31, 6:15PM.



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