James Cohan Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition of early photopieces by renowned British artists Gilbert & George. Gilbert & George: Black, White and Red 1971-1980explores the development of Gilbert & George's work from this period.
Their transformation from two art students at St. Martin's School of Art in London into a single entity in which both chose to give up their surnames was crystallized in 1969 when they first performed the now classic piece The Singing Sculpture. It was with this performance that their life and their art became so completely fused that they seem to think, live, and create as one person. Their performances transformed them from living individuals into works of three-dimensional art, or as they put it "Living Sculpture."
Gilbert & George wrote in 1971, "Art is life and we create art for all." The documentation of them as "Living Sculptures" evolved in 1971 into an almost diarist record of their walks in London parks. The photographs were then presented in a scrapbook-like format on the wall. This marriage of art and life went beyond the bucolic as they began documenting their drunken binges with the Drinking Sculptures. Throughout this seminal period in their development, each work incorporates portraits of Gilbert & George; placing them at the center of the universe they observe and imagine, as if they were the only inhabitants of their alienated world.
In this first decade of Gilbert & George's work, there exists a factual nature to the images. With the use of the grid structure, positioning multiple images side by side, the journalistic and commonplace become unexpectedly powerful emblems of inwardness, melancholy and confinement. The addition of red to their rigorous vocabulary has been suggested as a symbol of their revolt against the status quo and a further retreat into themselves and the blood of their bodies. By the late 70s and into 1980, they had technically begun to achieve larger images but retained the grid sculpture in an almost stained glass-like fashion. The restrain and inwardness of the decade began to recede and a more assertive position was taken by the artists in later work.