Following on from their 2012 exhibition “The London Pictures”, Gilbert and George have taken over the White Gallery in Bermondsey for their new exhibition “Scapegoating – Pictures from London”. The 2012 exhibition made extensive use of text and slogans. This exhibition is much more visual, though the slogans re-appear in the last works at the end of the exhibition – I guess they couldn’t resist it. The theme of this show of over 60 works is London today – multi cultural, multi-layered, complex, threatening, ever-changing, based on their observation of the changing area of London in which they live and work – Spitalfields and Brick Lane. As always, they seek to shock – they describe “a world in which paranoia, fundamentalism, surveillance, religion, accusation and victimhood become moral shades of the city’s temper”.
The pictures use, in all sorts of different ways, bomb-shaped canisters which contain nitrous oxide, known as “whippets” or “hippy crack” and are taken to induce a high and hallucinations and which the artists find lying discarded and empty on the pavements around their home.
Here is, however a contradiction – the images of these canisters are used to infer something sinister and destructive, yet their contents have given extreme, if short-lived, pleasure.
Jonathan Jones in the Guardian is positive about the exhibition: “What are they really trying to say? Wrong question. Good art does not have a single “message”. It is a mirror of the age. These pictures mirror the tensions and contradictions of Britain in the era of Ukip. They deserve to be on hoardings on public squares instead of just in an art gallery. Gilbert & George make art that matters. It wants you to argue with it. It wants you to think. It wants to be part of life. At the centre of it are two men in love with everything they see.”
Although the works in “Scapegoat” draw very closely on the Brick Lane and Spitalfields area of London where Gilbert & George live and work, they say they “are not here to show or reflect life”.
“We are here to form our tomorrows,” the pair say, adding: “The creative person is always in front of everyday life showing the way forward.”
Like Rachel Kneebone’s sculpture which is also on sbow, the works have a great deal of detail that needs care and time to examine. The visitor is left worried about what will await them in the London streets outside. The paintings reflect the changing nature of east London; there are also positive hints of consistency, for example the Royal Family, the Post Office and, of course, Gilbert & George themselves. Is that the success of London – a city that has the challenge of blending its heritage and some things that provide an anchor with many – and often threatening – things that are changing?
We want our art to:
bring out the Bigot from inside the Liberal
and conversely to:
bring out the Liberal from inside the Bigot.
(Gilbert and George 2014)