Enter the world of Gilbert & George

PUBLISHED: 09:00 21 April 2014

Existers (1984) Gilbert and George

Existers (1984) Gilbert and George


Before Brit Art, there was Gilbert and George: Plymouth-born George Passmore and his artistic collaborator have been at the very top of the world of modern art for more than four decades. Art Editor CAROL BURNS previews their Artist Rooms exhibition

Gilbert & George: Artist Rooms

22 March to 22 June

Gallery 21, Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, Exeter

Queen Street, Exeter EX4 3RX

01392 265858 / exeter.gov.uk/RAMM

To find out more information about Artist Rooms visit artfund.org/artistrooms or visit tate.org.uk/artistrooms

If the role of an artist is to express themselves, then Gilbert and George are masters at their craft. In the late 1960s when performance art was (arguably) at its height, the pair of sculptors thought: why render the human form in a marble or metal, when the form is already available in flesh and blood, ie the artist? And so they became living sculptures, sacrificing their individual identities to become a work of art. This idea was fully realised with their ‘Singing Sculpture’ in 1969 where they sing ‘Underneath the Arches’ describing the simple pleasure of sleeping rough. Presenting it live around the world – sometimes for many hours at a stretch – they began to create films and pictures that could extend the idea of the artist as a living sculpture without requiring their physical presence allowing them to reach a much wider audience.

Their aim was not to be elitist and create art for only a few, but react against what they saw as the dominant approaches to sculpture at the time and attempt to communicate outside the context of ‘art’.

Fast forward several decades, and a Turner Prize in 1986 (beating Jubilee director Derek Jarman, among others) and they have become household names successfully traversing the art and ‘normal’ worlds. Their impeccably and seemingly conventionally dressed figures are instantly recognisable: they have successfully gone from l’enfant terrible of art to become part of the modern lexicon of today’s art.

Family Tree (1991) by Gilbert and GeorgeFamily Tree (1991) by Gilbert and George

So it is no surprise that Gilbert and George should form part of the incredible Artist Rooms collection. Managed by Tate and National Galleries, the collection was gifted by art collector Anthony d’Offay to the nation. In a collection spanning the greats within modern art of the latter half of the 20th century there are no duffers here: more than 700 works by more than 30 artists including Gerhard Richter, Damian Hirst and Andy Warhol have been split into Artist Rooms that can go on tour.

Opening 22 March, Gilbert and George: Artist Rooms represents major aspects of the artists’ career from 1969 to 1991. It includes Family Crusade referencing the military expedition undertaken by Christians in Europe in the middle ages: notice how the artists hold the backs of their chairs as if they were crosses.

Another work, Family Tree is taken from the series ‘New Democratic Pictures’. The democracy is one in which each individual is free and encouraged to contribute to society and links to their idea of communicating with all.

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