I didn’t make it the first time, of course, but I did see Gilbert & George’s reprise of “The Singing Sculpture” in 1991 at Sonnabend. It left a pretty deep impression on me in a way their photo compositions really haven’t. And there was always something about their conceptual conceit of being “living sculptures,” and not separating art and life that seemed a little precious.
But holy crap–no pun intended–have you seen these guys work? No wonder art and life aren’t separated, they have turned their entire life into the most systematic, all-encompassing, hyperefficient artmaking process I think I’ve ever seen or heard of.
I watched a 2000 interview/documentary/archive visit with them [“un film de Hans Ulrich Obrist,” seriously], and I imagined Hans Ulrich dying right there on the spot and going into archival heaven. It was that intense and organized and incredible. When Gilbert [the non-balding one] is talking, George is training his gaze straight into the camera, as if he were hammering the point home. It’s just–just watch it.
Fortunately, it sounds like the boys have finally gotten a little digitization in their process. Robert Ayers visited with them in 2007, and they now use a computer and a hi-res scanner to compose their images using the tens of thousands of photos they have taken and categorized and archived over the decades.
[One thing that I wonder about, from the movie: George holds up a model of an unidentified gallery which would house a show they’ve conceived of their entire 1977 series, Dirty Words Pictures, which to that point had never been seen together. The first person to identify the location would win “a special prize,” he said.
So how’d that turn out? Because less than two years later, the Serpentine did show the Dirty Words Pictures, but that gallery mockup doesn’t really remind me of the Serpentine.]
Anyway, if they weren’t interesting enough, in 1975, on the occasion of a show in Dusseldorf, they commissioned Gerhard Richter to paint their portrait. He ended up painting eight of them, using melanges and overlays of various photographs. Anthony d’Offay donated a pair to Tate Modern, where they are in the Richter Rooms. So strange, but the National Gallery of Australia’s, above, is even stranger.
The Secret Files of Gilbert & George (2000), 35min, dir. Hans-Ulrich Obrist [ubu.com]
[images: Gilbert, George, all 1975, all Gerhard Richter. Top: via Tate, above: via Gerhard-Richter.com]