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Gilbert & George: towards modernity, beyond modernity Napoli - Italy,
Museum of Capodimonte
until Feb. 7th 1999
Francesca Romana Orlando
ISSN 1127-4883     BTA - Telematic Bulletin of Art, January 16th 1999, n. 156
Exhibitions Area

« Every work of art we do
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Gilbert & George, January 1999

The Museum of Capodimonte in Naples will show until the 7th February the works of two of the most interesting artists in the international world of art: Gilbert & George. The english duet, held togheter in 1967, was known in the '70s for their Body Art performances. They used to paint their own body in gold or in blu, exposing themselves on a platform in the center of a gallery or in a square, while continuously singing a pop song in a obsessive way. The aesthetic of ripetition was typical in those years, that were influenced by the experiments with seriality of artists such as Warhol and of musicians such as John Cage.

The influence of Pop Art is particularily evident in the work of the '80s and of the '90s, made of photographic self-portraits on plastic support: the resemblance in style is due to the choice of strong and innatural colours, typical of advertising images, in the front-position of the subjects and in thier presentation on decorative patterns, while the iconographical resemblace is due to the choice of themes linked to sex, money and food.

From an historical point of view, it is very difficult to find a collocation for the two artists. The most famous manuals, in fact, quotate Gilbert & George under different groups (according to P. De Vecchi and E. Cerhiari they are Postavanguard or Postmodern; C. Bertelli, G. Briganti and A. Giuliano talk about them in the chapter on Body Art, while M. Livingstone defines them Iperrealist).

The english duet shows a strong affinity with other contemporary artists, such as Jeff Koons and Cindy Sherman, whom I want to define "Ultramodernists", that is to say "beyond" modernity, for their being agaist avanguardism, believing instead in a metalinguistic concept of art, according to a new belief in art as philosophy. These artists, in fact, analyse the two foundamental objects of the aesthaetical reflection on art: the artist and the work of art, considered by Croce the poles of the so-called "aesthaetic circle" (that is to say "The artist is the person who makes the work of art" and "The work of art is the product of the artist").

The quotation of past works of art (Pop Art in the case of Gilbert & George) represents a reflection about the sense and the identity of art; the same aim is percieved by the chioce of themselves as subjects of their own works.

In the case of Gilbert & George, this chioce has a further value because it tesifies one important characteristic of the contemporary sociey: the sensibility reguarding the perception of the self. In the consumerist society, in fact, the individual perceives himself as a double of body and soul, and consequently as a fragment of an unicum. Gilbert & George's works, are made of big photographical fragments united. Of course there is a practical reason for the adoption of this technique, but this confirms that the cause of doubleness and of fragmetariety is technology and the mechanical reproduction of the image.

The two artists show a deep self-consciuousness reguarding the problems of identity, accepting modernity in all its aspects. They adfirm: "We are not the reflex of society, we do not comment it, we create the future, we are working for a better world... Our society is better than the one of twenty years ago, it is more liberal and we believe in modernity".

In their acceptance of modernity G&G follow the experience of Pop Arte, that under the appearance of superficial and banal themes was a real breaking point in contemporary art, getting art to free multimedial experimentations, just as the Avanguard Movements had foreviewed in the '10s and '20s. (M. Calvesi, defines Pop Art as a Second Avanguard). These artistic expressions are going to reach more and more the high place reserved to High Art (painting, sculpure and architecture) because the morality of art is going to comprehend also appearantly frivolous activities. In the "Ultramodernist" aesthetic, whose origins can be seen in dandism of Oscar Wilde or of Baudelaire, the ludic and decorativ aspect of art is the more serious aspect of it because society takes strenght to change itself from art, just as Gilbert & George adfirm: "Politics always follow Culture".


fig. 1

fig. 2



About Gilbert & George:

    Interview to Maria Grazia La Rosa in the Tv Programme Telecamere (RAI 3) 10-1-1999
    F. Alfano Miglietti, Gilbert & George, in Virus, n. 9, October 1996.

About Pop Art:

    M. Calvesi, Le due avanguardie, Milano, 1966.

About the double and Fragmentation:

    J. Baudrillard, L'Autre par lui-meme, Paris, Galilée, 1979.

About Arte as Philosophy:

    G. C: Argan, Arte e critica, Roma, 1984.
    E. Garroni, Estetica: uno sguardo attraverso, Garzanti, 1992.




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