Until 3 October, Baronian Xippas in Knokke is showing the exhibition 'THIRTEEN EARTHLY PICTURES', with new works by the famous and eccentric artist duo Gilbert & George. These works were specially developed for this exhibition.
The world famous duo hardly needs an introduction. The 78-year-old artist Gilbert Proesch and his 79-year-old partner George Passmore have been working together since 1967 and met at the St Martins School of Art in London, where George said he was the only one who could understand Gilbert's Italian accent. Much later, the couple also described their first meeting as love at first sight. In the late 1960s and early 1970s — a time when the art world was ruled by pop art, conceptual art and minimal art — Gilbert and George created an alternative. Their lives become one big performance, a role play in which their bodies are used as works of art and the boundaries between fiction and reality become blurry. The duo makes no distinction between their art and their lives, creating a symbiotic relationship. They take that quite far. For example, they never appear separately in public and they always coordinate their clothing.
Although they work in various disciplines, Gilbert and George have categorised all their works as sculptures. These visually powerful works often aim to provoke. The artists generally discuss social taboos in an unapologetic and explicit way. Topics that vary from religion, sex(uality), race and money to alcoholism, violence and even human excrements. Their large-scale photographic works are perhaps best known. Executed in a large black grid, we regularly see the British couple depicted, often in black and white with two or three powerful colours. Their subjects range from death and chewing gum on the street to their own naked bodies — not as a symbol of powerful masculinity, but rather as a symbol of a fragile vulnerability. During the recent lockdowns, the artists kept an online video diary, for which they delved deeper into social topics on a weekly basis.
Yet the artist duo also contains a kind of paradox. George grew up in a poor single-parent family and the couple's work is decidedly anti-elitist. Their motto 'Art for All' indicates that they see art as something for everyone, not just as an elitist hobby for a select group of art connoisseurs. But the couple has also adopted a noble-like lifestyle over the years; in a stately home in East London's Fournier Street, which they've completely restored in 18th-century style, and filled with traditional British 18th- and 19th-century museum objects such as antique vases and tapestries. At the same time, they have been an integral part of East London's — sometimes raw — street culture since 1968, a part of London they consider to be a kind of microcosm. And although their work generally shows a deep compassion for people who do not benefit from the existing system, they are staunchly conservative, unlike much of the art world. Gilbert & George show the world as they see it, but they generally remain aloof themselves, literally and figuratively. They see it as their task to contemplate, to visualise human life in all its aspects. Gilbert & George: “We are interested in the human person, in the complexity of life.”
In 1986 Gilbert & George received the prestigious Turner Prize and in 2005 they represented the United Kingdom at the Venice Biennale. The couple has now been working together for over fifty years. Their days are marked by an extreme form of routine and discipline; every day at five o'clock they stand next to their bed to read for two hours. At seven o'clock they eat toast with marmalade, in the same coffee bar they visit every day. Their fully equipped kitchen is only used for making instant coffee. Gilbert: “We only have a kettle. And a fridge full of champagne.” Moreover, they never use the internet, the last time they visited a cinema was in 1979 and listening to music is also out of the question, because it would be too soothing. They also eat at the same restaurant in Dalston every night, before taking the bus back home. The reasoning is simple: by reducing the number of decisions in a day, they have more time and mental space for making art. They certainly do not consider enjoying their old age by leaving the art world. Gilbert: "Artists never retire."
The exhibition 'THIRTEEN EARTHLY PICTURES' can be seen in Baronian Xippas in Knokke until 3 October.