In honor of the 50th anniversary of when the British artists first met, 35 monumental pictures will be on view at both of the gallery’s New York locations in Chelsea and downtown Manhattan.
THE BEARD PICTURES exemplifies Gilbert & George’s commitment to “Living Sculpture,” or an inseparable association between the world and their art practice. The pictures respond to the shifting demographics of our time, befitting the artists’ proclamation of “Art for All.” Viewers should not mistake this mandate for a democratic approach to art as a pleasantry. Taboos, fetishes, political upheaval, and the functions of the human body are some of the great unifiers of humanity, and Gilbert & George have long offered scathing and unsanitized societal critique. The British novelist Michael Bracewell elaborates on the sentiment of these latest works:
THE BEARD PICTURES are violent, eerie, grotesque, lurid, and crazed. They show a dream-like world of paranoia and destruction and madness ... a world bereft of reason, in which negotiation no longer exists. Gilbert & George take their places within THE BEARD PICTURES as intense, red, staring, empty-headed, and sinister versions of themselves … THE BEARD PICTURES turn history into a mad parade, their mood shape-shifting between that of science fiction, lucid dreaming, and Victorian caricature ... In this chaos of trashed aesthetics and reversed values, all has become symbol and surface: mad symbols, presented with deadly seriousness.
The massive works depict the artists in symbolic beards made from beer foam, flowers, and barbed wire, interspersed with imagery of street signs, graffiti, and ginkgo trees specific to the London neighborhood of Spitalfields. With this, the artists offer an allegorical take on the transformation and upheaval of the urban environment, and more broadly, our contemporary era. Few traits of appearance or dress offer such ripe interpretation for both the spiritual and the secular, the past and present, as the beard; Bracewell summarizes its iconography “as both mask and meaning: a sign of the times.”