‘Hunt for serial rapist’. ‘Jet bomb plotter jailed’. ‘Man, 81, dies in blaze’. ‘Teen gunman caged’. ‘Pair accused of boys torture’. ‘Royal gay sex blackmail plot’. ‘Evil woman stalker jailed’. ‘Mum killed tot with pills’. ‘Junkie murderer attacked 100-year-old woman’. ‘Bullied girl, 15, stabbed in head’. ‘Sex beast attacks woman in her home’. ‘Man died after sex act “went wrong”‘. ‘Cricket coach strangler mystery’. ‘Woman missing on date is dead’. ‘Drugs batch laced with glass’. ‘Hackney girl killed by heroin’. ‘Elderly die alone: shock figures’. ‘Play portrays Jesus as drunk womaniser’. ‘Man goes mising [sic] at shopping centre’.
One could—and indeed Gilbert & George’s new London Pictures, 262 of the pair’s signature multi-panelled prints, these reproducing London tabloid newspaper posters, do—go on. But why? Because of their self-professed love for and obsession with East London, the city and the area that the two have made their home and workplace since emerging from St. Martin’s College in the late-60s? Because we, the innocent audience, keepers of our own dark urges and perversions, need to be confronted with this textual cataloguing of human cruelty and pain? Because the poetics of the tabloid headline just haven’t been given their due? Because isn’t life just misery, and it’s oh so nice to be reminded that it’s likely more miserable for someone else, like that Hackney girl, or that Cricket coach, or Jesus?
Gilbert and George, Girl, from The London Pictures, 2011
With no offense to London, what Gilbert & George’s London Pictures are is tiresome at best and cynical at worst. After a career predicated upon needling the soft flesh of perceived social refinement, including aping the latter with their own arch politesse, what the pair have served up is one giant finger wag (Tssk Tssk!). The London Pictures no more make art out of the abyss of humanity, which the artists claim could always be found right outside their Spitalfields’ studio door, than Glenn Beck makes programming aimed mobilizing the global Left. Like Beck, though, Gilbert & George have perfected the camera-ready glower; and in these pictures, it’s made all the more goofily sinister by what looks like too much television makeup and the pair’s overly whitened–i.e. bloodless–eyes. In the past, the artists’ self-portraits were gestures at their own implication within the great social carnival; within the London pictures, they look like spectres of self-righteousness.
What are we to take away from it all? From the murders and rapes and hangings and stabbings and beatings and burglaries, from the boys and girls and men and women and drunks and thugs and playboys and police? Is this London? Is this humanity? No doubt it is. Then how should one respond? Exactly as one is expected to when confronted with the gruesome headline or shocking tabloid poster. Utter “What the fuck?”, and move on.
From the Summer 2012 issue of ArtReview.