Gilbert and George at Tate Modern

I went yesterday to see the big Gilbert and George retrospective at Tate Modern. The Tate have done their usual thorough job of putting the exhibition online, so that link will give you a fair idea of what the exhibition’s like.

I enjoyed it more than I expected. Not that I expected to hate it, but it wasn’t a show that I was especially excited to see. My usual gripe about contemporary art is that it often seems a bit half-baked; good moments that never seem to be worked through and developed fully. Gilbert and George did at least seem fully-baked. There’s a sense of a lot of stuff in the show – lots of ideas and images and variation. At the crudest level, a lot of work. Not that work ethic is the most sophisticated metric for artistic worth, but it at least predisposes me to be little more sympathetic.

I preferred the works with a more geometrical composition and a more austere colour scheme; there was a period in the eighties when their work became a bit too much like the packaging for a particularly odd range of children’s breakfast cereals (click on any of the images to see an enlarged version):

Generally, the obvious visual parallel with their work is stained glass windows, but actually some of the more geometrical ones remind me of quilts. Whether that’s a good thing or not.. don’t know, really. I’ve always quite liked simple, traditional geometrical quilt designs; when they work, they seem to be doing so much with so little. I don’t know whether that sense of formal restraint really applies to a work like Jesus Said:

In the past few years, they’ve started using computers to do the design work, and I’m not entirely sure that it’s an improvement: they seem overfond of some of the heavier-handed tools in Photoshop. Still, I like some of them.

So overall, I don’t know that I’d like to have many of these pieces actually in my house—and yes, I know that’s another rather simplistic metric for artistic worth, but it’s one way of communicating a gut reaction—but I’m glad I went to the exhibition.

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