Image: Gilbert and George preserve their greatest moments
Gilbert & George in front of the gates of the Gilbert & George Centre, 2023
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Gilbert and George preserve their greatest moments A preview visit of their new art centre with Jonathan Jones

22 March 2023
Gilbert and George Centre, London.

Now in their 80s, the ‘living sculpture’ couple have built a free gallery to ensure their creations last for ever. Our writer gets a tour of the centre – and its mind-boggling inaugural show.

George and Gilbert are showing me the Himalayan magnolia they’ve planted in the freshly cobbled courtyard of the Gilbert and George Centre. It’s a tall specimen that’s already starting to unleash its ravishing red blooms. “Just like human hearts!” they exclaim, adding that the friend who first showed them this tree’s flowers has just died. “It’s amazing,” says George, “that on the day we thought, ‘Let’s take a photograph to send him’, we should hear that he died.”

George Passmore is 81 and his husband Gilbert Prousch is nearly 80. The pair have been working as a piece of living art, a single artistic entity, since the 1960s and are intensely aware of how many people they’ve outlived. “They’ve all gone,” says George. “Duncan’s gone, Warhol’s gone.” (...)

“We became the art,” says George. “We are it! We don’t have to do anything. We don’t have to scratch, or do something. We are it. Even when we walk to dinner, we are it.”

Yet, even as they made this declaration, they set out to preserve what they did, from creating beautiful invitations and souvenirs for their early events to getting Grant, Warhol, Cecil Beaton and more to do portraits of them. But their most effective method of preservation is their Pictures: bold montages of their own images, pictured with everything from weeds to graffiti, skinheads and turds. “The idea was to leave something behind,” says Gilbert. “You cannot just walk the streets of London day and night. You have to leave a vision behind, like a letter or something, in a gallery. That’s what our Pictures are.” 

 The centre is the apotheosis of this desire. It will open on April Fools’ Day, a stone’s throw from their home, rotating their personal Pictures. (...)
Behind the gates, there’s an unexpectedly warm, even snug quality to the centre, with its courtyard like a village square. A small garden gallery shows films and videos, while the main building contains three exhibition spaces. Gold and bronze lighting and subtly grey walls add to the intimate mood. (...)
The inaugural show is The Paradisical Pictures, a kaleidoscopic explosion of enlarged flowers and seeds out of which their eyes glow shamanistically. But when people come here, what will they be looking at: stand-alone works of art – or relics of the Living Sculpture that is Gilbert and George? “Both, I suppose,” says George. “The artist is always at the heart of the subject. (...)

The Paradisical Pictures seems to me like a joke about death and the afterlife. White Cube, in London’s West End, is echoing the event with a show of the pair’s Corpsing Pictures, in which the elderly duo pose with arrangements of bones like a medieval danse macabre. After seeing them “die” there, visitors can head east and see them in paradise at their new centre. They are, quite literally, giving themselves a public sendoff. The project is grave but funny, I suggest, a springtime for Gilbert and George in which they triumph over death.

They completely disagree. “We never went to the studio with the idea of being humorous,” says George, deadpan.

But surely you had fun making The Paradisical Pictures, I say, mixing up your faces with dates and dandelions?

“We never did the fun,” says Gilbert.

“We’re the most miserable people we know,” adds George. “Why fun?”

Because, in the posters for The Corpsing Pictures you showed me, it looked like you had fun playing with bones.

“We’re not playing with bones,” says George.

“We’re expressing ourselves with bones,” adds Gilbert, followed by a quick correction. “Expressing ourself.”

 The Paradisical Pictures opens the Gilbert and George Centre, London, on 1 April. The Corpsing Pictures is at White Cube Mason’s Yard, London from 29 March to 20 May.

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