Gilbert and George
THE CULTURE OF DESPAIR
In 1995, jolly critic Robert Rosenblum (now giggling with God) had to admit, a few months after the fact, that he reviewed Gilbert and George's "Naked Shit Pictures" in Artforum without actually going to the show, so as I watched the first frame of James Kalm's video of the duo's new "London Pictures" exhibition at Lehmann Maupin, in which Rosenblum's artist widow Jane Kaplowitz stands before a frieze of horror assembled from London tabloid headlines, I decided to do the same.
The Kalm video and a fascinating video on Lehmann Maupin's website, in which aging boulevardier Anthony Haden-Guest interviews the always calm and insightful G&G about their triple exhibition at two Lehmann Maupin spaces and Sonnabend, prove that, even if you are in the gallery, you don't necessarily understand what's going on. A befuddled Kalm wonders whether or not "these are real headlines" and a confused Haden-Guest asks G&G whether "they made some of the headlines up."
The crucial thing to understand about "London Pictures" (even up here in the woods with the gloomy rain bouncing off my office windows) is that these lurid checkerboards of mayhem are assembled from photos of wall advertisements on London for that day's papers, which used to be common in New York, when we had 20 morning and afternoon newspapers a day back in the middle of the last century, and which London still has.
George (or is it Gilbert?) underscores this sly bit of real time appropriation by telling Haden-Guest that "the blonde person walking down the street becomes the art," a really brilliant insight which reminds me of the 1980s days when I used to carefully rip down Robbie Conal posters of George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan and take them home to put on my walls. The added grim eyes of G&G, in the background of some of the images, recalling the eyes of Dr. Eckleburg above the ash hills of Long Island in The Great Gatsby, are ominously grand, one of G&G's best touches ever.
"London Pictures," which appears to be gorgeously installed, especially when the videos drolly highlight dressed-in-black art worldies perfectly blending in with the crazy work behind them, has received mixed reviews for being too repetitive and over the top. From the detached view of my computer, the naysayers misunderstand G&G's astute message: life IS despair and enough of it, ordered and assembled in rational pictorialism, can be cozy and comforting.
As Gilbert (or is it George?) remarks to their doppelganger Haden-Guest, "For us, it has always been the same." May their band, with Robert Rosenblum on kazoo from the vast beyond, play on, even as the black icebergs of London's (and the world's) living hell drift forward.
Gilbert & George, “London Pictures,” Apr. 26-June 23, 2012, at Lehmann Maupin, 540 West 26th Street and 201 Chrystie Street, New York, N.Y.
Gilbert & George, “London Pictures,” Apr. 26-June 23, 2012, at Sonnabend Gallery, 536 West 22nd Street, New York, N.Y. 10011.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).