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While visiting London recently, my (Chris’s) friend JL took me to White Cube at Bermondsey to see the latest exhibition by Gilbert & George. I have seen their works in the past but never so many in a gallery.

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White Cube is a contemporary art gallery with two branches in London: Mason’s Yard in central London and Bermondsey in South East London, one in Hong Kong and one in São Paulo. White Cube Bermondsey opened in October 2011 and is the largest of all the gallery’s sites. The building, which dates from the 1970s, includes not just galleries but also private viewing rooms, an auditorium and a bookshop. To me, the openness of the gallery entrance and the generosity of space inside creates a dramatic contrast with the old houses and narrow streets of the Bermondsey area.

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White Cube represents some big names – Damien Hirst, Andreas Gursky, Anselm Kiefer, Chuck Close …  See their web site here.


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Much of what I say here about the artist came from Wikipedia and White Cube. Gilbert and George worked exclusively from the 70’s as a single artistic unit under their first names. Their trademark format is the large grid, a square or rectangular picture broken into sections that becomes a unified field of signs and images.

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They frequently appear in suits in their work and are rarely seen in public without wearing them. It is also unusual for one of the pair to be seen without the other. I cannot help but think of the Pet Shop Boys. The colors (red, black and white)  in this series of pictures and their somewhat robotic poses reminded me also of Kraftwerk’s The Man Machine.

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The backdrop and inspiration for much of their work is the East End of London where Gilbert & George have lived and worked for over 40 years. But some of their works are quite controversial, one can find them easily online – just do an image search.

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They are openly conservative. They said “Left equals good. Art equals Left. Pop stars and artists are meant to be so original. So how come everyone has the same opinion? … We admire Margaret Thatcher greatly. She did a lot for art. Socialism wants everyone to be equal. We want to be different.”

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About the exhibition, White Cube says “The ‘SCAPEGOATING PICTURES’ unflinchingly describe the volatile, tense, accelerated and mysterious reality of our increasingly technological, multi-faith and multi-cultural world. It is a world in which paranoia, fundamentalism, surveillance, religion, accusation and victimhood become moral shades of the city’s temper.”

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The work consists of three large panels, each containing 60 smaller square panels.

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Frequently featured in the works are images of the sinister bomb shaped canisters used to contain laughing gas (nitrous oxide), used recreationally. Gathered by the artists from the side streets and back alleys that surround their home, the presence of these canisters, mimicking that of ‘bombs’ pervades the mood of the SCAPEGOATING PICTURES to infer terrorism, warfare and a stark industrial brutality.

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Overall, I think the setting and the scale of the works, Gilbert & George’s staring faces and the canisters, cloned images of middle-eastern ladies with their faces covered and the accumulation and superposition of words over images really worked to create a claustrophobic, almost-menacing mood.

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If you like G&G, this is a treat but it is unlikely to generate new fans.

The exhibition is free and will continue until September.

 

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