Saturday, March 17, 2007

Gilbert and George and me

As much fun as the slides were, playtime wasn't our only reason for visiting the Tate Modern; we wanted to check out the Gilbert and George retrospective.

The exhibit is ... encyclopaedic. Apparently it's only about one fifth of their entire catalog, and features works from various stages of their 40-year career, including the invitation to watch them (together with David Hockney) being served dinner by a butler; their group portraits of teenage boys in very '80s fashions; their discovery of the wonders of computer imaging (which allows them to manipulate their photographs to dramatic effect); and their multiple works in response to the London bombings.

And while their oversized creations are vivid and bold, almost yelling for attention, they're also (to this untrained art critic, at least) largely devoid of emotion. Each piece, even the latter group, seems so carefully planned, so meticulously executed, that it feels static, clinical, distant.

Yes, their works have Christian symbolism, bodily fluids, nudity, but none of these (even in combination) provoke visceral reactions; if they were intended to wake up the viewer, shock them into consciousness, they miss the mark. And because there's no sense of humor or irony in most of the works, there's nothing universal with which to connect; no sense of recognition that G&G live in the same world as the viewer.

Maybe this is understandable. G&G's brand is largely based on an almost outmoded sense of formality and repetition--they rarely appear in public in anything other than suits; they dine at the same restaurant every day--and that almost mechanical, rote approach, applied to their work, seems to allow no room for essential humanity.

Maybe I just don't understand how one could live in London and not explore the enormous variety of places to eat.

Or maybe my reaction was the result of seeing so much of their output in one place (the exhibit covered the entire fourth floor of the museum). An hour of oversized frames filled with faces/roses/crosses/penises (while G&G, in suits/tightie-whities/nothing at all, look on in fear/lust/reverence/silent admonition) was enough. Maybe too much.

By comparison, it wasn't until we went to the
Minimalism exhibition at the Guggenheim a couple of years ago that I began to understand the form; seeing so much minimalist art in one place brought it into context. Ironic, really.

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