From Central St Martins misfits to East End cultural pioneers, Gilbert & George have always dared to be different. Now they’re back with a new exhibition at the White Cube entitled The Urethra Postcard Art.
Gilbert & George’s manner is formal and polite. They wear immaculate tweed suits, live in a beautifully preserved Georgian town house and collect Victorian pottery. They are also responsible for some of the most provocative and important artwork of our time. Over the last forty years this artistic duo have left no taboo unexplored and works have included everything from large-scale photographic prints of faeces and semen, to exhibitions entitled ‘The New Horny Pictures’ and ‘Was Jesus Heterosexual?’ Now, after spending fifteen years collecting postcards and fliers, that as George explains, “had a union flag on and weren’t boring”, they have produced over 564 works of postcard art, 155 of which are displayed in a neat, symmetrical fashion at the White Cube Mason’s Yard gallery.
The process is certainly a precise one. Thirteen of the same cards are required to make up each work, arranged in a rectangle with a single card in the middle, creating “an angulated version” of the urethra, a pattern used by the late theosophist C.W Leadbeater. “Normally we are not influenced by anybody”, says Gilbert, “but Charles Leadbeater fascinates us because he taught masturbation at a time when it was forbidden.” The cards include English flags, city landmarks and various adverts from prostitutes, highlighting Gilbert & George’s long obsession with all layers of London life, from its seedy underbelly to its patriotism and tourist attractions. The flag, with its symbolism of national pride and social segregation, is the perfect subject for the artists, who have always found controversy in everyday objects. “It is one of the best flags in the world,” says George, before adding: “A flag is like horse racing, it brings out the best and worst in people.”
Gilbert & George, the ‘living sculptures’, are social commentators who find their art in the most unlikely and volatile of places. As students in the 60s, they challenged artistic trends and devoted their lives to making art that reflected themselves and their world. Forty years on, in a new exhibition that combines themes of national, urban and sexual identity, Gilbert & George are back doing what they do best.
The Urethra Postcard Art of Gilbert & George opens tomorrow at the White Cube Mason’s Yard and runs until 19 February 2011.