Perhaps best known for their brilliantly-colored, wall-sized paintings, artists Gilbert and George have been working together since they first met at St. Martin’s School of Art in London, 1967. The pair claim they became friends as George was the only person who could understand the Italian-born Gilbert’s poorly spoken English. “It was love at first sight,” they have since claimed. It was while they were students that Gilbert and George first devised their trademark performance art called Living Sculptures, where they wandered through the city streets covered in metallic make-up. The idea was to “collapse the distance between art and artists.”
In 1970, Gilbert and George developed this further and first performed their famous Singing Sculpture, at the Nigel Greenwood Gallery. Again coated in metallic make-up, the duo stood on a table and moved in robotic movement to comedy double-act, Flannagan and Allen’s 1930’s music hall song “Underneath the Arches” - about the homeless men who slept under railway arches during the Great Depression. Their show proved controversial and divided audiences, which is will no doubt happen with the pair’s latest show, The Urethra Postcard Art of Gilbert and George, which has just opened at the White Cube Gallery in London.
For this latest show, Gilbert and George have created 564 pieces of art from their personal collection of tourist postcards and telephone booth sex cards, advertising prostitutes’ services. Collecting the tourist postcards was easy, the call girl cards more difficult, as they explained to the Guardian:
The phonebox sex cards were trickier. When they saw one they liked – “Luke man 2 man horny fit lad 27 years” – they would dive in and grab it, but would then have to scour the area looking for 12 more. “Transexual Linda new in town” must have found business collapsing as all the ads within half a mile disappeared.
The prostitutes’ cards are a vanishing artform, along with the phoneboxes themselves – “almost fizzled out now,” George said mournfully.
The Urethra Postcard Art of Gilbert and George is at the White Cube until 19 February. And if you’re interested in contacting the pair, then you’ll find them under “artists” in London’s Yellow Pages.
This short documentary explains the background to Gilbert and George’s Living Sculptures, discussing their Singing Sculpture and how everything they do is a form of art.