Gilbert and George at White Cube

Filed in Reviews by on March 12, 2012

Gilbert & George: London Pictures

White Cube Hoxton, Mason’s Yard and South Galleries, Bermondsey

9 March – 12 May 2012

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There’s something lovely and familiar about Gilbert & George isn’t there? They’re like the art equivalent of a comfortable pair of slippers or a nice warm mug of Horlicks (though they possibly would not appreciate this comparison). Their oeuvre, which has spanned five decades, has been described as provoking, visionary and shocking, and yet they’ve somehow managed to obtain that kind of Stephen Fry status of The National Treasure, which is in itself quite an achievement for artists who have made 8×8 foot pictures of flying pieces of shit.

Someone said to me, when I was fresh off the boat, “We have a saying here in England, – manners maketh the man” and Gilbert & George are living proof of this. If you have a gentile accent and a nice tweed suit you really can get away with anything in this country, including theft. In their new exhibition ‘LONDON PICTURES’ currently on display in White Cube’s Bermondsey, Hoxton Square and Mason’s Yard sites, the duo present us with 292 images bearing newspaper headlines juxtaposed with pictures of the artists themselves laid out on their signature black grid. Each picture is based on newspaper sellers’ posters that they have been systematically pilfering from unsuspecting newsagents over the past six years. The layout is familiar, reminiscent of the Dirty Words Pictures of 1977, it’s just what you’d expect, they’ve reduced the bright colours and have employed an arresting Barbara Krugar palette of black, white and red, yet the work is what it is; it’s classic Gilbert & George.

They have catalogued the collection of 3,712 tabloid headlines according to frequently cropping up words: “teen”, “guns”, “jailed”, “yobs”, “killed”, “stabbed” “peado” “porn”. The repetition creates familiarity, each headline tells the story of a life, of real people, real tragedy, real news; and yet there is something about the grid-like formula, and the sheer volume of work presented that quickly becomes fatiguing. In the first gallery I read each image, headline by headline, trying to take it all in. Two galleries and two Tube journeys later I’m just glancing at them, not even reading, barely skimming. Who cares? It’s all the same, it’s all monotonous and it’s all yesterday’s news by now anyway. But maybe that’s the point.

Gilbert & George have simply ‘lifted the pictures out of the world’, things which we pass every day on every street corner. They saw the wealth of material concealed within tomorrow’s fish and chips wrappings; ‘all these amazing world subjects – murder, sex, rape; human subjects inside this big city’, and they have presented us with a bleak portrait of London, an insight into the darker side of London life. Yet what response are they expecting? There is a huge amount of work being presented, a huge amount to see and yet not a lot to take in. The subject, themes, style and aesthetic are all so familiar. As I trail from the last gallery, I feel… not quite bored, but not excited.

But I suppose it is hard to get excited by Horlicks.

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Beth Fox

About the Author ()

Beth Fox is an artist, writer and independent curator. She has recently exhibited work at Divus Gallery, London, Sluice, London, Angus-Hughes Gallery, London, the Horse Hospital, London and the Bunkhouse Gallery, Madrid. She was born in Ireland and lives and works in London. More information at: www.beth-fox.com

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