[New York Peasant by Wilfrid: June 8, 2012]
I've made no secret of my passion for their work, or my admiration and affection for them. George Passmore and Gilbert Prousch -- Gilbert and George as they're universally known, forever partners, collaborators, now a married couple, and a unique project in art history.
My photograph of the installation view at Lehmann Maupin, Chrystie Street
And this summer they brought London to New York with another enormous show spread over two Lehmann Maupin spaces and the Sonnabend Gallery. Almost three hundred pictures based on 3,712 newstand placards, "found" or purloined from the East End streets. The effect is profound.
I mean the art. The process of creating art from these everyday fragments, the visual effects deliberately created, and the formal properties of the results. Heck, who even looks at Gilbert and George's pictures from a formal point of view?
Doubtless they work with assistants, but the transformation of these countless posters into these beautifully finished grids of images (their works are often compared with stained glass windows) must have required extraordinary labor. It's been noted that a profile portrait of Queen Elizabeth appears in the bottom right square of each grid. No: not just that. These profiles have been taken from the relief of the Queen's head which appears on coins. It's obvious at a glance (to an Englishman, anyway) that they've used coins from different periods of her reign (the portait has changed several times).
But as I looked closer I realized that in each case they had used a different coin. The royal face is sometimes pristine, sometimes chipped and chiseled, sometimes polished with use. Yes, there's a social and political narrative here, but subtly expressed by visual means.
As for the other formal properties of the pictures, just look out for the way they play against the rigid grid. Chain fences, net curtains, streets photographed from almost expressionist angles (Murnau); the artists have many strategies for introducing the angled and crooked as an argument against the straight. Many of the pictures bear the subtitle "STRAIGHT" -- following the main title -- and the gallery argues that this distinguishes the pictures which use bold san serif for the headlines from those which use a cursive script.
Well, no, it just doesn't. There's much more going on here with the concept of straightness -- social, moral, representational, and certainly not only sexual (although undisguised sexual politics are there in the pose they strike in the picture called "Gay").
Look, look again, and then really start looking, along all these angles and vectors of appearance and disappearance, as the artists threaten to merge with the fabric of the city, then re-emerge, frankly committed to communication, truth, and a deep humanity.