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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: http://humanite.fr/journal/2007-02-...

by Magali Jauffret, special correspondent, London

The Coronation of Gilbert and George at London’s Tate Gallery

Translated Saturday 17 March 2007, by Patrick Bolland

Contemporary art: the English artistic duo are savouring their retrospective at the London Tate Gallery where 200 of their monumental works, dating back to 1970, are on show.

As you leave the no-less-than regal retrospective of Gilbert and George, you can gage the visitors’ contradictory feelings and you ask yourself if this isn’t because of the incoherence between the reputedly-insolent, pestilent content of their 40 years of creativity and of visual jesting, occupying a whole floor of London’s Modern Tate, and the stunning ambiguity of the “living sculpture” that they have made of themselves, as a couple: smooth, conformist and above all a marketable commodity.
A real enigma.

An unshakable love affair

First of all, the works themselves. The startling first charcoals on sculpted paper, sealing their unshakable love for each other (1970-71) to the monumental visual grids which bring the world and its menaces into complex compositions of images resembling a gigantic leggo construction (the end of the 1970s), a trajectory emerges, petrified in pain, impregnated with alcohol and depression. This is an evolution into the human psyche, human thought. The red, leaping out of the black and white, is inescapable. We are already into the “morning red”, “violence” and “mental pictures”.

Then graffitis taken from the streets appear in photomontages yielding themselves to artistic incarnation. The life-size effigies of the artistic couple from now on invest all their works. Soon this complex mural art becomes oppressive, melancholic, depressing, as it incorporates daily obsessions – unemployment, marginality, suffering –of a whole people meanly discarded by Thatcher, and later, ravaged by AIDS.

Like the frescos of the Middle Ages

Decoding their society as the fresco artists of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Gilbert and George’s works depicts death, hope, life, fear. Increasingly, young boys appear in their work. Nudity and sex are artistic weapons, recurring figures in their semantic, beautiful young male images – Ephebes - of all racial groups with hairless torsos and chubby buttocks, dreaming Adonises in settings lush with flowers and insects, alongside classified ads for male prostitutes, a rain-storm of condoms, of penises, of little brats and, most of all, with the self-portraits as aging but resolute adolescents, when they intentionally provoke by flaunting their nudity.

Provocation or subversion ?

Shocking ! Gilbert and George love shocking the viewer. When they are not into abstract art by enlarging through a microscope urine droplets and bodily fluids, they are giving free reign to their scatological obsessions by playing with lightning, blood, piss, turds. And they are theorizing: “We want to spread our blood around, our b rains, our seeds, by trying to give a meaning and new purpose to life”. Scorning the sacrilegious, they create a scandal by asking “Was Jesus a hetero?” But what is the point really that really comes out of their most scandalous works? Apart from putting terror onto the front stage, what does their latest work, “Six Bomb Pictures”, about the bombings in the London Underground, really tell us?

Gilbert and George, rooted in the melting-pot of East London where they have lived for the last 40 years, refer to themselves as the vibrant enemies of “intellectual art, obsessed by form, the cruel negation of the lives of people”. But have they managed, as they claim so loudly, to create an “art for all”, to reach the masses with “the works of the current era that have the most to say”? A major question!

Two for the Price of One

And then there is the couple, itself. It is all as if the couple’s performance, which soon achieved a unity to become ONE artists, then ONE star, than ONE private enterprise to produce kitschy derivative items for the chic loft – it seems as if this leads the spectator to a sort of nauseating voyeurism: Looking through the key-hole to see Gilbert, the short brown-haired one from the Dolomites, and George, the tall blond one wearing the glasses. We know that, once past the door, we know they are rushing to take off their spick-and-span suits and ties, their dolly-look, stiff, totally controlled for the anything-goes beatnik gears, worn-out jeans and slippers, all grunge that finally assures us of the coherence of the statements of commitment …

Unless, with this heavy and very British mismatch, it is the clichés associated with homosexual imagery that the artistic couple transgress so well: this way of playing it as Sodom and Gomorra hanging from the picture-rail while at the same time attaching their G&G logo according to the norms of the market-place, still maintaining their lower-middle-class-country-conservative look, a thousand leagues distant from the creative voyeuristic romanticism, juvenile and subversive, of a Pasolini or a Genet!

Exhibition at the Tate Modern, 4th floor, east and west wings, until 7th May, 2007. Open daily from 10am to 6 pm, until 10 pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Entrance: 10 euros, concessions, 8 euros. To get there from Paris : Just 2 ½ hours with the Eurostar. Catalogue in English only) Gilbert And George Major Exhibition Tate Modern, texts by Jan Debbaut, Michael Bracewell and Marco Livingstone. Published by the Tate, 208 pages, 12.99 pounds.

Translator’s note: For an overview of the couple’s work on show at the Tate Gallery, please visit: http://www.tate.org.uk/modern/exhibitions/gilbertandgeorge/

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