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'Art for all': Eccentric art duo Gilbert & George launch new exhibition space in London

The Gilbert & George Centre opened its doors to the public on 1 April
The Gilbert & George Centre opened its doors to the public on 1 April Copyright AFP
Copyright AFP
By Theo FarrantAFP
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Gilbert & George have opened a new permanent exhibition space in London called the Gilbert & George Centre, which will host one to two exhibitions each year.

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Gilbert & George, the eccentric British art duo known for their boundary-pushing and provocative works, have opened a new permanent exhibition space in London. 

The Gilbert & George Centre, a converted 19th century building spanning over three levels, is located in Spitalfields, not far from the artists' home and studio. 

It will host one to two exhibitions each year, with the opening show being "Paradisical Pictures", a London first that features the duo inhabiting "a disquieting vision of a heavenly place imagined as an enchanted forest or overgrown park". 

The entrance to the gallery will be free, in line with Gilbert & George's belief in accessible art and their "art for all" ethos.

Who are Gilbert & George?

DANIEL LEAL/AFP
'Gilbert and George' pose together at the opening of the Gilbert & George CentreDANIEL LEAL/AFP

Gilbert Prousch and George Passmore first met while studying at St. Martin's School of Art in London in the late 1960s. 

The two quickly formed a close bond, bonding over their shared love of art and their desire to create something truly unique. 

In 1969, they staged their first performance art piece, "The Singing Sculpture," in which they stood motionless and dressed in suits and ties while singing along to a recording of Flanagan and Allen's song "Underneath the Arches." 

This performance marked the beginning of their partnership and established the key themes that would inform much of their later work: the use of the body as a sculptural object, and the exploration of societal norms and conventions.

© 2002 Gilbert & George
Gilbert and George Installation view from the exhibition Gilbert & George: The Dirty Words Pictures, Serpentine Gallery, London© 2002 Gilbert & George

Throughout the 1970s, Gilbert & George continued to develop their distinctive style, producing a series of photo-based works that explored issues such as sex, death, religion, and politics. 

One of their most well-known works from this period is "The Dirty Words Pictures" (1977), a series of large-scale photo collages featuring words and phrases considered taboo or offensive by many. These works sparked controversy and outrage among some critics and audiences, but also cemented Gilbert & George's reputation as fearless provocateurs who were unafraid to push the boundaries of acceptability.

Whether working in photography, sculpture, or performance art, Gilbert & George remain to this day one of the most influential and enduring art duos of the modern era. 

What to expect from the Gilbert & George Centre

DANIEL LEAL/AFP
Italian artist Gilbert Prousch (L) and British artist George Passmore, better known as 'Gilbert and George', pose together in front of an artwork entitled 'On the bench' 2019DANIEL LEAL/AFP

With the opening of the Gilbert & George Centre, fans of the duo's unique style and provocative subject matter will now have a dedicated space to experience their work, free of charge and with a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere.

In a video presentation, Gilbert explained the importance of the space being a "human space" and not an "aggressively minimalist" gallery or museum. 

"You don't have to be a specialist, you don't have to be rich, you can be poor or whatever you want to understand our art," he said. 

George added, "We want it to feel part of life, it's also so that we can live forever, because everyone wants to live forever." Gilbert joked, "We're getting old, but we're living forever."

The first exhibition held at the centre is "Paradisical Pictures", a series of large-scale images showing the artists wandering through psychedelic natural worlds. The images are infused with elements of surrealism, the grotesque, tragedy and comedy. 

It is a psychedelic landscape, as though the pre-Raphaelite artists of the mid-nineteenth century, more given to poetic realism and Arthurian legend, had secretly envisioned science-fiction. The disembodied eyes of Gilbert & George stare unnervingly through tangles of fluorescent briars, reminiscent of the effigies of Green Men nature spirits superstitiously admitted into the decoration of churches by medieval stone masons.
The Gilbert & George Centre

The Gilbert & George Centre will initially be open Friday to Sunday (10:00 – 17:00), and will gradually increase opening days later in the year.

Check out the video in the web player above for a look inside the "Paradisical Pictures" exhibition.

Video editor • Theo Farrant

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