Underpinned by the artists’ ethos’ Art for All’, The Gilbert & George Centre launches as a permanent HQ for Gilbert & George’s artistic legacy, presenting one or two exhibitions a year and providing visitors with the broadest possible access to their historical and new pictures, as well as a place for research and scholarship on their practice.
Our art is the friendship formed between the viewer and the pictures — Gilbert & George
The centre will open 1 April 2023. Visitors will enter through a secluded cobbled courtyard and into a reception area reminiscent of the artists’ restored Georgian home and studio nearby Fournier Street. From there, the Centre spans three state-of-the-art exhibition spaces of differing scales and feel, extending over three levels and totalling 280 m².
To mark the inauguration of the Centre, the first exhibition will be THE PARADISICAL PICTURES, shown in London for the first time. In these works, the artists inhabit a disquieting vision of a heavenly place imagined as an enchanted forest or overgrown park. The psychedelic landscapes are made weird by juxtaposing lurid colours, oversized fruit and rotting flowers.
The Gilbert & George Centre was initially established as a registered charity by the artist in 2009 to advance the education of the public in the arts and generally to advance the arts, architecture, heritage, and culture for the benefit of the people, especially but not exclusively by the preservation, after the deaths of George & Gilbert, of the properties in Fournier Street occupied by them and the collections, archives and works of art created by them.
In 2015 the Trustees acquired the freehold property at 5a Heneage Street, a former industrial building located in the heart of Spitalfields and a stone’s throw from the home and studio of Gilbert & George. The property was purchased to create a permanent home for the works of the artist and to enrich London’s cultural offering further thus further.
The building’s conversion has been designed by SIRS Architects, in close collaboration with Gilbert & George, to house three state-of-the-art exhibition gallery spaces, each differing in scale and feel. The artists’ vision of both architectural spaces and art displays was embedded into the project’s design by restoring the building’s original appearance while simultaneously creating a sustainable project with contemporary exhibition spaces suitable for their art.
It is anticipated that there will be one or two exhibitions per year showcasing the creations of Gilbert & George. As part of the exhibition programme, The Gilbert & George Centre will work with Community and Education groups to ensure that a broad demographic is engaged with
In the words of the artist, “London is such a changing global population every day, and if somebody comes from Venezuela or Wolverhampton, there will be a place in London where they can see our pictures, and for everyone to convene from across the world to see the art of Gilbert & George.”
It is the artist’s gift to the community of London and underscores the artist’s intention to ensure that ‘ART IS FOR ALL’.
The design approach considers the sustainability of the building in its broadest sense by integrating environmentally conscious features. These include sustainable use of energy, water and material resources, as well as the building’s socio-economic and whole lifecycle considerations. The project applied various active and passive design principles to maximise energy efficiency, minimise energy consumption, and promote energy conservation wherever possible.
Michael Bracewell – Trustee of The Gilbert & George Centre, explains; “Gilbert and George are two men who are one artist: Gilbert & George. The vision of Gilbert & George is their art, of which they are the embodiment. Therefore Gilbert & George are the art of Gilbert & George. The art of Gilbert & George is based upon feelings, thoughts, and intellect.
Gilbert & George are total modern independent visionary artists alone. The vision of Gilbert & George is their singular and particular way of seeing, experiencing and celebrating life. The vision of Gilbert & George is also and simultaneously their way of seeing and creating art.
Modern life is the inspiration and subject of Gilbert & George’s art. The life of Gilbert & George is art
Gilbert & George, with the viewer, explore and test their feelings in their art. Gilbert & George see the modern human condition. Acceleration, religion, politics, business, dullness, leisure, celebration, violence, money, history, poverty, age, sex, work, hope, newness, sickness, desire, intoxication, beauty, dereliction, love, despair; the radicalised world; the virtual world. They see the daily routines and feelings of their fellow citizens from all backgrounds: the fast, modern multicultural and multi-technological world. Office workers and junkies. They know the spectrum of human behaviour.
Gilbert & George observe the constantly changing life of our world the way one might observe the weather or study the constant current of a vast river. The vision of Gilbert & George is committed to raw realism. Still, it is also profoundly romantic: finding heightened or disturbed emotion in ordinary things in a way that renders the subjects of their art extraordinary and richly atmospheric, individual yet connected by common feelings. The vision of Gilbert & George derives from the union of lucidity and heightened emotion; their art is from the balance of control and loss of control.
In every picture and every ‘Living Sculpture,’ the viewer sees the bond between Gilbert & George as profound and absolute. This duality proposes two men brought together by fate as outsiders and seekers-after-after truth. Dualism structures the vision and art of Gilbert & George: two men, one artist; control and loss of control; reactionary and radical; traditional and ultra-modern. The singularity of Gilbert & George, therefore, derives from their duality.
There is a magical quality to the union of Gilbert & George, as communicated by their art. The notion of two tramps, always on the outside, with only each other, journeying through life, at times seeming to be stooges of fate, at times cosmic travellers, at times old fashioned song- and-dance men; mystical, vulnerable, supernatural, suffering, ritualistic, universal in their contradictions as much as their constancy. These roles comprise a modern archetype: part seer, part common man, part poet, part rebel-disrupter of complacencies. The art of Gilbert & George is the epic story of two seekers after truth, all they encounter, all that occurs to them, constantly alone, always together.
Gilbert & George repudiate the reach and influence of art theory as a means of conceiving, creating, ‘solving’ or ‘explaining’ a work of art.
Gilbert & George maintain an ideological opposition to formalistic art theory and the reference of art to the history or theory of art. Asserting the power of emotion and actuality instead, their art addresses culturally excluded, neglected or disowned subjects. Their art questions social taboos and morality. By looking at complex subjects, the skill and vision of Gilbert & George are intended to ‘de-shock’ rather than seek to shock. Its aim is not the simple task of ‘shocking’ a viewer but the difficult task of interrogating a subject and themselves.
The art of Gilbert & George, however poetic or spectacular an individual picture or sculpture may be, is not intended to be an aesthetic, formalist or conceptual statement of any kind or to be admired for qualities such as colour, composition or artistic reference. Instead, by disrupting certainties, their art wishes the viewer to question life and art within themselves and their own experience.
The art and vision of Gilbert & George are not ironic but drawn from a concept of irony: contrast, reversal, paradox, multi-faceted and many-layered.
For Gilbert & George, the modern world is continually broiling volatile restlessness. Their art depicts the modern world as brooding, lonely, disrupted, portentous, mad, cosmic, melancholy, monumental, chaotic, ordinary, desolate, dream-like, dull, monstrous, violent, blasphemous, and infinite.
In conveying the intensity of this vision to the viewer, the art of Gilbert & George is empowered by formality rather than formalism. The more formal the demeanour and manner of Gilbert & George, the more intense and direct their communication of extreme emotional states, behaviour, landscape and ideology.
The untameable extremism of Gilbert & George lies within themselves; their suits and ties have, accordingly, the function of the bomb casing. Nevertheless, it is the well-mannered conservatism of Gilbert & George, their creation of a precisely balanced paradox, a collision of appearance and reality, reversing the reactionary and the radical to declare an autonomous position.Suited and impassive, blindly stumbling or screaming, Gilbert & George take their places in the visionary landscapes of their art as both participants and witnesses.
Unchanging, they have the appearance and countenance of modern sober-minded, anonymous citizens who have embarked on the astral journey of their Divine Comedy: purgatory, Heaven and Hell as they find it and perceive it in our world, in nature and themselves.
Formality carries the ferocity and determination of this journey just as the singularity of Gilbert & George derives from their duality. The art of Gilbert & George makes the viewer think about art from first principles and primal responses: what does this make me feel and why?”
Top Photo: Gilbert & George Photo © 2023 Courtesy Thaddaeus Ropac
Opening 1 April 2023 – The Gilbert & George Centre 5a Heneage Street, Spitalfields, London, E1 5LJ