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Gilbert & George
Gilbert Proesch (b. 1943) and George Passmore (b. 1942)
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As the decade ended, however, it was apparent that the tenor of their work had changed in response to the AIDS crisis. An exhibition of works about illness and destruction, Art for AIDS at the Anthony d'Offay Gallery in London, ran from April 20 through May 20, 1989 and all proceeds were donated to CRUSAIDS, a British AIDS charity organization.

The 1990s

The artists' increasing success and fame were heralded in a major exhibition in Moscow in 1990.

In the final decade of the twentieth century, Gilbert & George continued to create and exhibit gay-themed work. In the triptych entitled Urinal (1991), the duo once again combined Christian references with bodily functions and this time took the subject literally into the church by using the form of an altarpiece.

In this work, a photograph of a urinal is superimposed over an image of the interior of a church, placed where an altar would normally be located and positioned in the central panel of a triptych. Representations of the artists are superimposed in two forms; once in yellow-colored full-figures, secondly in white half-portraits shown from the waist down.

The tripartite work, created in one of the traditional forms of an altarpiece, places the locus of gay male public sex into the most important part of any church--its altar. It both makes the site sacred for gay men and confronts the viewer with gay sex.

The 1990s were also a time in which Gilbert & George focused the subject of their work on all forms of bodily excreta, ranging from tears, spit, and blood to urine, semen, and feces. As if that were not enough, the subjects were often photographed under a microscope and then magnified to either life-size or larger than life.

As they stated in their manifesto at the beginning of their career together, Gilbert & George create deliberately provocative work that is harshly critical of society and its taboos. Seen in this light, the artists' scatological works can be read in three ways: as a "dirty joke," as a source of irreverent humor, or as a means of protest.

Gilbert & George use feces to make the private public, break social taboos, show contempt for established norms, and make a statement about social ills. For them, feces also function as a metaphor for artistic struggle in general and the dangerous life of gay men in particular.

The artists first used excrement as a theme in their 1983 work entitled Shitted, in which the artists superimposed photographs of themselves facing each other in front of a wall of vastly magnified, orange-brown turds. Gilbert & George are shown wearing blue and green with the same brown substance in their mouths. In this work, they seem to refer to themselves as the creators of the "shit" that critics claimed they brought into the art world.

A decade later, in 1993, they exhibited a collection of all of their works on the subject, at the Wolfsburg Kunstmuseum. Two years later, The New Shit Pictures was shown in Cologne and Naked Shit, the complete series, was exhibited at the South London Art Gallery where the deliberately provocative works were large enough to cover completely the gallery's walls. In the Shit (1996) measures 338 x 426 cm (approximately 11 x 14 feet). Hardly a work to be ignored or discreetly removed!

Gilbert & George have also frequently depicted blood, another social taboo. Bloody Faith (1996, 1190 x 528 cm), for example, simultaneously reflects something covered with blood, the Eucharist, and the AIDS pandemic. The title also comments on the church's attitude toward gay men and puns on the word "bloody," a foul epithet used by the British to express anger.

Maintaining a fear of blood, bodily fluids, and nudity is impossible when viewing Gilbert & George's oeuvre. The Fundamental Pictures created in 1997 was a two-part exhibition shown at both London's Lehmann Maupin Gallery and the Sonnabend Gallery. The gargantuan works depicted macro-images of feces and other bodily secretions labeled with "fundamental" words like piss, shit, and spunk.

One work entitled In the Piss (1997) consists of a larger than life frontal nude portrait of the artists, arms over each other's shoulders, against a background of yellow urine crystals. The enormous work is an attempt to confront society's prejudice against male nudity.

Bloody People (1997, 377 x 1143 cm) illustrates the nude pair in "hear, see, and speak no evil" poses.

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