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Monday, June 9, 2008

Living Sculpture

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  British artists Gilbert and George met at St. Martins College of Art in London, 1967, and have remained creative partners ever since. Their names are never separated, they coordinate their clothes and they speak in a dialogue that appears to be scripted. And now Gilbert and George are bringing their provocative brand of art to the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM), with their first retrospective in more than 25 years. The MAM is one of only three U.S. venues hosting the exhibit. “Gilbert & George,” which spans the artists’ iconic 40-year career, opens June 14.

  The exhibit displays more than 40 large-scale photomontages that use a combination of body art, performance art, photography, printmaking and graphics along with digital enhancement. Archival materials complement the documentation of their careers, and include letters, postcards, films and videos that were often used as studies for their larger pieces.

  Known for their bold, in-your-face approach, Gilbert and George incorporate sex, money, race and religion into pictures that ask the “big questions” of society. Using their own London East End neighborhood as an artistic playground, they extract universal themes that can be applied to the international scene. Some viewers may find the material shocking, but Gilbert and George have said that “shocking is a media idea; it is not an artist idea. Our pictures are not attacking or confronting, but exploring.”

  To further delineate their own objectives, Gilbert and George defined a treatise they have lived by since 1969, when they left art school. Their Four Laws of Sculptors state:

%u25A0 Always be smartly dressed, well groomed, relaxed, friendly, polite and in complete control.

%u25A0 Make the world to believe in you and to pay heavily for this privilege.

%u25A0 Never worry, assess, discuss or criticize, but remain quiet, respectful and calm.

%u25A0 The Lord chisels still, so don’t leave your bench for long.

  With this in mind, these two London sculptors created a special work for the retrospective. At the conclusion of the exhibit, an immense piece titled BOMB presents the issue of terrorism, with powerful images of the July 2005 London subway explosions (which occurred just minutes from Gilbert and George’s home). Here they ask the viewer to examine and explore these sensitive and frightening life events, asking questions without offering conclusive answers. A blog at www.mam.org/gandg/blog will allow Milwaukeeans to exchange comments and opinions with Gilbert and George.

  The exhibit preview, which takes place Thursday, June 12, at 5 p.m. and Friday, June 13, at 1:30 p.m., is free to MAM members. The uniquely impressive Gilbert and George will be present, along with the show’s organizing curator, Jan Debbaut from London’s Tate Modern. MAM’s former director David Gordon, who hails from London, will offer his perspective on the exhibit July 10, and gallery talks will take place every month on Tuesdays. Joseph Ketner, MAM’s chief curator, states, “With ‘Gilbert & George,’ you’re in for a real treat. This will be a memorable experience.”

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