Art Fag City at the L Magazine: Gilbert & George

by Art Fag City on October 29, 2008 · 0 comments The L Magazine

winter-flowers.jpg
Gilbert & George, Winter Flowers, 1982, 95 x 98 1/2 inches, Image via: The Brooklyn Museum

A while ago I wrote a post titled I Hate Fluxus Art, which as the title suggests outlined some general negative feelings about the movement as as a particular performance by Larry Miller performance.  I  bring this up because Gilbert & George have a fair number of affinities to Fluxus art, and which isn’t likely to engender any positive feelings from me about their show at the Brooklyn Museum.  My review at the L Magazine below.

I couldn't get anyone to see the Gilbert & George retrospective at The Brooklyn Museum with me, which wasn't much of a surprise. Almost no contemporary artist I know likes their gaudy trademark self portraits and collages, and if they do, they prefer it in very small doses. I can't say I'm any different, but as someone who's experienced the majority of their art through textbooks, I figured I might have a different opinion after I'd actually experienced it live. To be sure, I now have a much more nuanced understanding of what I don't like and why.

Admittedly, it's almost too easy to dismiss the exhibition. Frequently tacky and over the top, the majority of the show consists of oversized photo-based grids resembling stained-glass windows. Gilbert & George in matching suits, Gilbert & George naked, Gilbert & George birthing shit from their mouths; it doesn't take much before charming eccentricity begins to just seem weird. Of course, the art world has seen its fair share of nudity and shit — Paul McCarthy's inflatable turds and performance works amongst the most well known — but unlike this collaborative team, I don't often hear McCarthy talking about how accessible his work is to everyone.

One would assume, however, that in the 1960s and 70s, when the art world was dominated by abstract and minimal art, Gilbert & George's use of figuration would have helped them reach a broader audience. Despite a bit of wall text provided by the museum, this point will likely be lost on visitors; the show is organized by theme, not by date, so contextualizing the work historically is a lost cause. While the thematic arrangement is consistent enough aesthetically to make a case for itself, the exhibition doesn't gain anything through confusing the work's chronology. It was only after going through an illustrated checklist, for example, that I realized the more graphically appealing photo-based art — UP, Bloody Life No. 16, and Mental No. 4 — was all executed between 1975 and 1980. It's almost impossible to make a case for this work's influence on art makers like Robert Longo during that time, if it's not presented in a way that makes the viewer aware of when it was made.

To read the full piece click here.

Previous post:

Next post: