A new body of works by by Gilbert & George will be exhibited for the first time, at White Cube. ‘THE BANNERS’ comprises three unique copies of each of the ten ‘BANNERS’, making thirty in total. Each ‘BANNER’ is therefore individual, singular, itself. Yet collectively and graphically the ‘BANNERS’ share a defiant or controversial mood and a feeling of strident exhortation.
Landscape in format, ‘THE BANNERS’ are uniform in size – made from the largest sized sheet of watercolour paper available, mounted on linen. Three sturdy brass eyelets run along the upper edge of each ‘BANNER’, so they can be simply hung on the wall from nails.
Everything about ‘THE BANNERS’, materially and rhetorically, is direct, tough, immediate. Their medium and appearance is dictated by function and efficiency, with a focus on Ethics, as opposed to Aesthetics. They transpose the visual language of graffiti or public political demonstration to both the cause of Art and the context of a museum or gallery. The iconic signature of the artists – Gilbert & George say-: is written in the upper half of each in crude red paint, prefacing a slogan, written in black spray-can paint. In each the timbre of the emphatic calligraphy is slightly different, yet all convey urgent conviction.
All ten slogans assert a belief. Together, they define a moral vision that is at once libertarian, atheistic, monarchist and existential. All are proactive. They each propose the disruption of modern conventions or sophistry as a means of encouraging individuals to think for themselves. In this, the ‘BANNER’ stating ‘FELLATIO FOR ALL’ may be less controversial – within the traditionally anti-monarchist context of contemporary art – than the ‘BANNER’ that proclaims ‘GOD SAVE THE QUEEN’.
As always in their art, Gilbert & George challenge cultural, political, artistic and individual complacencies. They address both authority and the cosily anti-authoritarian. Under their motto of ‘ART FOR ALL’ they want their polemical vision to reach the greatest possible number of viewers in the most generous and accessible visual language possible. Their art makes a raid upon predictability, of all kinds.
The art of Gilbert & George has always been simultaneously visionary and direct, as steeped in atmospheric potency as it is rooted in realism. Their art employs the most efficient means of conveying systems of belief that are at once secular and spiritual. Writing and text are an important part of this. In addition to their own writings and the forceful, descriptive titles of their pictures, graffiti, stickers, newspaper headline posters, flyers, street signage, sex advertisement cards and more, have all featured in the art of Gilbert & George, showing individual or anonymous beliefs and feelings.
Likewise, in their two epic ‘SCAPEGOATING’ triptychs of 2013, the artists have included slogan-like ‘messages’ to the viewer, that are pro-sexual liberation and anti-religion. The ‘BANNERS’ are a powerfully sharpened concentration of this tendency, which can be traced to some of the earliest art ever made by Gilbert & George in particular their famous ‘MAGAZINE SCULPTURE’ of 1969. In this the artists were shown out of doors in relaxed, sunny and informal poses. The phrases ‘GEORGE THE CUNT’ and ‘GILBERT THE SHIT’ are clearly visible, spelt out in individual capital letters, made from paper and pinned, on the artists’ respective suit fronts.
Forty five years later, the appearance by the artists at the ‘Extinction Marathon’, organised and held at the Serpentine Galleries, London, on 18 and 19 October, 2014, by their friend of long-standing, writer and curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, can be seen to employ a similar device. Standing silently for a little over four minutes in front of a packed audience, Gilbert & George each held a ‘BANNER’ proclaiming ‘BURN THAT BOOK’ and ‘FUCK THE PLANET’, respectively.
The immediate origins of the ‘BANNERS’ thus lie in this recent yet historic living sculpture; but as in all the art of Gilbert & George they take their place within a vision that is at once constant, cumulative and exponential.
Gilbert & George ‘THE BANNERS’ 24 November 2015 – 24 January 2016 White Cube Bermondsey