Gilbert and George and Art
Yesterday I went to Gilbert & George exhibition at Tate Modern. The artists lived and created art in London's East End (on Fournier Street close to Spitalfields, my neighborhood!) since early 70's. Trained as sculptors, they started out as "living sculptures," and soon after they started making photomontages, usually taking themselves as subjects, alongside views of dirty London streets, water poddles, flashlights, cherry blossoms, their bare wooden apartment, young boys, crosses, graffitti, sex ads, tabloid headlines, Gincko leaves, people who look like they belong to the fringes: Muslims, black people, "white trash." (Not to mention penises, spunk, shit and their own arses.) They force you to look at your own dark side in the eye. (And this exhibition forces London to look at her dark side in the eye.)
As it happens when I see modern art most of the time, I was quick to conclude that these artists could not do anything else with their lives, so they decided to do this (continuing in the Hincal Uluç vein, who rightly wrote once that he couldn't be convinced that a black square is art, and even Ertuğrul Özkök vein, "let's all admit our unliberal, intolerant side and relax now!") This alludes to a lack of talent, motivation, structure and patience in everything else that would earn them their living and respect, rather than a specific talent, motivation, structure and patience in art. When I look at an art piece, I'd like to see traces of talent, genius (something new, creative, something that would uncover an idea or emotion in me I didn't realize was there), beauty and discipline. I'd like to see advancement, something greater than myself, something I wouldn't have been able to do. To me, an artist, and any other discipline, should try to rise above and beyond himself, his daily life, his human instincts in his work, rather than making money and a reputation of them. (Advancement, not democracy!!)
So here I am, sounding like your mother or teacher. Being the reflective person I am, of course, this is not the end of the story. Firstly, looking at it from an economic point of view, these artists seem to have made a living with their work. (Watch the videos on the Tate web-site, they look like they made quite a lot since they were able to invest in that technology!) So there are people who like their art, who find something in it. What they are doing clearly has value. (At the same time, sometimes I wonder whether critiques are afraid of criticizing art just because they don't want to sound unliberal.)
They also seem to be working very hard while they are creating their art, albeit its ugliness much of the time. But then, we want creativity, we want new things that would speak to the society we live in now. So we can no longer expect the beauty and technique of Renaissance painting or impressionists or surrealists. That's all been done before. So we have to keep an open mind.
Furthermore, who am I to judge, right? Of course it doesn't speak to much in me because I've mostly been one of the privileged as a Caucasian woman from a middle class background. I don't understand those in the minority, gays, poor, excluded. But I know that most of the time, it takes patience, hard work and structure to improve your life. So while it is interesting and important to recognize, I don't see much to be proud of in clinging on to that alternative culture. The message about racism and religious fundamentalism, while original and interesting at the time, although still relevant, is not that original anymore.
But even to me, there were a few highlights. The sex ads, tabloid headlines and images of my neighborhood - contrasted against cherry blossoms. And the red.
Definitely worth seeing since it sparked so much to talk about!