- ARTIST ROOMS: Gilbert & George
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Ben Borthwick, Assistant Curator at Tate Modern, explores the art of Gilbert & George, whose works are included in the ARTIST ROOMS collection jointly owned by National Galleries of Scotland and Tate.
Gilbert & George are among the most provocative artists to have emerged from the British art scene in the late 1960s. Working as a pair and presenting themselves as ‘living sculptures’ they sacrificed their individual identities to art and thus turned the traditional notion of creativity on its head. Their powerful, uncompromising work addresses a vast range of emotions and themes, from rural idylls to gritty urban decay; from sex advertisements to religious fundamentalism.
The works in ARTIST ROOMS represent major aspects of the artists’ career from 1969 to 1991. While this period saw huge changes in Gilbert & George’s work, some concerns remained consistent. In the key magazine sculpture included in ARTISTS ROOMS, the artists are pictured smiling up at the viewer with cut-out letters pinned to their chests, which read ‘George the Cunt’ and 'Gilbert the Shit’ respectively. Here the artists use their own image to expose themselves to self-humiliation in order to pre-empt the criticism they anticipated.
Their early work emphasised the artists’ own image, their place as misfits in society and their concept of ‘art for all’. By the late 1970s however they had moved beyond the enclosed spaces of their house, their drinking and their life as artists, to explore the world and the people around them in the East End of London.
Throughout the 1980s large, brightly coloured, multi-part pictures in ARTISTS ROOMS deal with subjects ranging from religion, democracy and fear to sex, death and bodily fluids. In later works such as Faith Drop and Family Tree from 1991, the artists began to show themselves naked, typically combining both transgression and vulnerability.