Gilbert & George: Epic Beard Pictures Land in Hong Kong

Gilbert & George, Embeard, 2016. Mixed media, 59.45 x 50 inches, 151 x 127 cm. © Gilbert & George. Courtesy The Artists And Lehmann Maupin, New York And Hong Kong And Seoul.
Gilbert & George, Beardorage, 2016. Mixed Media, 88.98 X 124.8 Inches, 226 X 317 Cm © Gilbert & George. Courtesy The Artists And Lehmann Maupin, New York And Hong Kong And Seoul.
Gilbert & George, Fuck Off Hipsters, 2016. Mixed Media, 118.9 X 174.8 Inches, 302 X 444 Cm © Gilbert & George. Courtesy The Artists And Lehmann Maupin, New York And Hong Kong And Seoul.
Gilbert & George, THE BEARD PICTURES. Installation view, Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong, 2019. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul. Photo: Kitmin Lee.
Gilbert & George, THE BEARD PICTURES. Installation view, Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong, 2019. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul. Photo: Kitmin Lee.
Gilbert & George, THE BEARD PICTURES. Installation view, Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong, 2019. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul. Photo: Kitmin Lee.
Gilbert & George, THE BEARD PICTURES.
Installation view, Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong, 2019
Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul. Photo: Kitmin Lee.
Gilbert & George, THE BEARD PICTURES. Installation view, Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong, 2019. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul. Photo: Kitmin Lee.
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Uncanny and grisly depictions of facial hair and barbed wire take centre stage in Gilbert & George’s current dual exhibitions at Lehmann Maupin Hong Kong and Seoul. First unveiled in 2017 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the British artist duo, “The Beard Pictures” is a visual commentary of the contemporary moment; an unbridled account of political turmoil, transformation and madness.

Text: Denise Tsui
Images: Courtesy of artist and Lehmann Maupin.

Gilbert & George, Embeard, 2016. Mixed media, 59.45 x 50 inches, 151 x 127 cm. © Gilbert & George. Courtesy The Artists And Lehmann Maupin, New York And Hong Kong And Seoul.

 

“We don’t have a satirical bone in our bodies,” Gilbert & George told me in a recent email interview. “We never went to our studio with any other intention than to tell the truth, and shame the devil. We have the very best of intentions.” A surprising statement from the artist duo whose artworks have over the decades been described and reputed as shocking, confrontational and satiric to say the least. Their latest body of works, “The Beard Pictures” is no different. The trademark graphic style of Gilbert & George is recognisable even before entering the gallery space. The boldness of a sharp, limited palette and the sheer large sizes of the ‘photopieces’—as they are often called—is distracting from their content. Difficult on the eye, “The Beard Pictures” are in-your-face and utterly demand attention.

 

Gilbert & George, Beardorage, 2016. Mixed Media, 88.98 X 124.8 Inches, 226 X 317 Cm © Gilbert & George. Courtesy The Artists And Lehmann Maupin, New York And Hong Kong And Seoul.

 

In typical Gilbert & George fashion, the works utilize cultural and societal references to give a candid response to shifting moral views and opinions of our present times. As its title would suggest, the beard, whether glorified or deemed undignified, is the central motif. The accepted norms of male facial hair has long divided opinions, and rarely remained static over time.  Through “The Beard Pictures”, Gilbert & George shed their view of the beard as “symbols of religious bigotry” and “handsome maleness beyond [their] wildest sexual romantic dreams.”

 

Gilbert & George, Fuck Off Hipsters, 2016. Mixed Media, 118.9 X 174.8 Inches, 302 X 444 Cm © Gilbert & George. Courtesy The Artists And Lehmann Maupin, New York And Hong Kong And Seoul.

 

Six selected works make up the exhibition at Lehmann Maupin Hong Kong, each chosen as representative of a much larger body of works. In each, sinister, disturbing caricatures of the artists appear in blood red, the white pupil of their eyes sharp with piercing gazes. Normally clean-shaven, here they are sporting beards made from leaves, barbed wire, amongst an assortment of bizarre materials. Barbed wire and wire fencing runs rampant through all the works, a symbol of the upheaval in an era where global security surveillance and monitoring has reached a dangerous pinnacle, and geographical borders are replaced by man-made barriers and the political agendas of the world’s leaders.

 

Gilbert & George, THE BEARD PICTURES. Installation view, Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong, 2019. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul. Photo: Kitmin Lee.

 

Gilbert & George have long held true to their proclamation of “Art for All”. Born Gilbert Proesch and George Passmore, the duo met in 1967 at St. Martin’s School of Art. As “war babies”, the artists have for 50 years, lived and worked as Gilbert & George—two people, one artist. Making no disassociation between their life and their art, Gilbert & George are, as they say, “Living Sculptures”. In essence, their art is about life and their personal take on everything that is taking place around them. For over 30 years they have lived and worked in the same adjacent townhouses in London’s East End, leading drastically simple lives where they do “no cooking, no cleaning, no shopping, no cinema, no music, no gallery going, no friends, no strife”, distilling their energy into the studio. In 2017, they pair acquired an 18th century former brewery which is currently being converted into The Gilbert & George Centre so, as the artists tell me, they “can live forever.” Having witnessed the rapid gentrification (although the artists dislike calling it so) of their suburb, they now embrace another mantra, one that the artists envision will be the legacy of Gilbert & George: “Art for the Disenfranchised”.

 

Gilbert & George, THE BEARD PICTURES. Installation view, Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong, 2019. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul. Photo: Kitmin Lee.

“The Beard Pictures” is the epitome of this legacy and the six artworks selected for the Hong Kong show demonstrate this. Like many of Gilbert & George’s works, the composition of each photopiece is complex and layered. In Fuck Off Hipsters, the artists appear behind chicken wire, only their beards remain free. In Beard Trim £3, The artists and their beards are sandwiched between layers of barbed wire, while on the contrary, in Beardmoor, only the artists are bound by wire mesh. The various layering of the fencing wires perhaps can be seen as signifying the multiplicity and severity of the social segregation and discrimination plaguing our current world news.

 

Gilbert & George, THE BEARD PICTURES. Installation view, Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong, 2019. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul. Photo: Kitmin Lee.

 

In Beard Honor, profile images of royalty, as seen ubiquitously on coins and currency notes, cover Gilbert & George. Here, the artists appear dwarf-like, each with two pairs of hands. Set against a sharp green background composed of fig leaves, the work seems to suggest a mockery of nationalism and religion, both of which are constructs invented by humankind as a means of exerting power over the masses.

 

Gilbert & George, THE BEARD PICTURES.
Installation view, Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong, 2019
Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul. Photo: Kitmin Lee.

 

Despite the artists’ claim to being non-satirical, the semiotics in the visual imageries of the works and their suggested ironic play is hard to ignore. The pair’s beards in Beardorage are interconnected, weaving into an anchor; an emblem of hope in Christianity. The artists are presented with disproportionately large heads bearing horns made of barbed wire. The same barbed wire snake around the anchor, restraining its presence. For Gilbert & George, interconnectedness points to the need, as they say, to “share and share alike”. But for what it’s worth, the same connection serves to highlight the disconnect of our times. At the heart of “The Beard Pictures”—and just about all of Gilbert & George’s oeuvre—is this very seeking to rationalize the irrational, to confront and be critical without inhibition.

 

Gilbert & George, THE BEARD PICTURES. Installation view, Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong, 2019. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul. Photo: Kitmin Lee.

 

Created before Brexit and the Trump Presidency, the unfiltered commentary of “The Beard Pictures” have perhaps become even more pertinent now as we enter 2019 with wishful thinking and new resolutions. “The Beard Pictures” brings to mind the writing of Israeli historian Prof. Yuval Noah Harari. In 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, he writes: “But nationalism, religion and culture divide humankind into hostile camps and make it very difficult to cooperate on a global level.” Gilbert & George, with jest and cheekiness, shamelessly point the finger at the idiosyncrasies of nationalism, religion and culture. They share no misleading hope that the future will be bright, but they do however, establish that at least there will be a future if instituting The Gilbert & George Centre serves as any indication.

Gilbert & George: The Beard Pictures
Lehmann Maupin
Hong Kong
January 10 – March 16

About the artists
Gilbert & George (b. 1943, San Martin de Tor, Italy & 1942, Plymouth, United Kingdom) received their BFAs at the Munich Academy of Art, Germany, and Oxford Art School, United Kingdom, respectively, and received their MFAs from Saint Martin’s School of Art in London, where they met in 1967. Recent solo exhibitions of their work have been organized at Helsinki Art Museum, Finland (2018); LUMA Arles, France (2018); The Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art, Budapest, Hungary (2017); Museum of Old and New Art, Tasmania, Australia (2016); The Museum of Modern Art, New York (2015); Nouveau Musée National de Monaco (2014); Deichtorhallen, Hamburg, Germany (2011); Laznia Centre for Contemporary Art, Poland (2011); Kröller-Müller Museum, the Netherlands (2010); the de Young, San Francisco (2008), Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI (2008), Brooklyn Museum, New York (2008); and Tate Modern, London (2007). Select group exhibitions featuring their work include The Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition 2017, Royal Academy of Arts, London (2017); Take Me (I’m Yours), Jewish Museum, New York (2016); A Journey Through London Subculture: 1980s to Now, ICA London (2013); Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2012); ARTandPRESS, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin (2012); The Original Copy: Photography of Sculpture 1839 to today, Kunsthaus Zurich (2011); BP British Art Displays 1500-2009, Tate Britain, London (2009); and Passports: Great Early Buys from the British Council Collection, Whitechapel Gallery, London (2009). Their work is in numerous international public and private collections, including Art Institute of Chicago; Cleveland Museum of Art; Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain; Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, Ireland; Istanbul Modern, Turkey; Magasin III, Stockholm, Sweden; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the Netherlands; and Tate Gallery, London.

Gilbert & George have received honorary doctorates of art from Plymouth University, United Kingdom (2013); Open University, Buckinghamshire, United Kingdom (2012); University of East London (2010); and London Metropolitan University (2008). They have received numerous awards, including the South Bank Award, London, and The Lorenzo il Magnifico Lifetime Achievement Award, Florence, both in 2007; the Special International Award, Los Angeles, in 1989, and most notably, the Turner Prize, London, in 1986.

 

Denise Tsui is a Hong Kong-born Aussie with an addiction to coffee. Her research interests are primarily in the art scene of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, as well as the study of exhibition models, from fairs and festivals to biennales and triennials. Previously she was an editor for ArtAsiaPacific and curator for a private collection of Australian and New Zealand art. A condensed version of her postgraduate curatorial thesis on contemporary Indonesian art was published in the Journal of Southeast Asian Studies in 2015. She is currently also the media manager for Parkview Art Hong Kong.

 

 

 
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