.. is a mammoth show. So mammoth it had to be done in two parts with an extensive refreshment break between times. I recommend the house Champagne – drink it in a wholly socialist, east-end down n dirty stylee. G&G would approve. For I can’t quite get over the fact that the entire floor of Tate Modern given over to this exhibition contains, in my guestimate, getting on for half a billion quids worth of art. Not bad for two lads of humble origins who, whatever you think of them, have shown a degree of integrity to their art unmatched in modern times. They’ve lived in the same house in the east end since 1968 and produced work inspired by their London surroundings for over forty years. They’ve worn matching suits, eaten at the same cafe and restaurants every day and produced a vast, intricately researched and catalogued body of work for most of that time. There’s a sense of relentlessness about the two and at the end of my first visit my ‘head was done in’.
Texture is everywhere and nowhere. Vast slabs of brightly coloured panels line nearly every gallery. Detailed, often microscopic, images offer a continuous panoply of everything you ever wanted to know about Gilbert & George but never thought to ask.
If you’d wondered what Georges willy looks like – it’s in room 13. If you want to see micrography of their semen, it’s in room 14 – where you’ll also find shit, piss and probably Gillian McKeith. You might be shocked by some of the stuff – rude words abound too – but my guess is that you’re more likely to be overwhelmed by the sheer vast sameness that envelopes you whilst you wander shell-shocked from room to room. Gilbert & George peer out, up and down at you from nearly every work, never quite making eye contact. Sometimes they have distorted heads or eyeballs. Sometimes they are red. Sometimes they are monochrome. Sometimes they have their suits on and sometimes they are stark bollock naked. But always they are there, divided up into their square panels, part of the work, living sculptures – as they have always styled themselves. Slowly you are drawn into their shove it in your face, enamelled universe. Your mind is assailed by images of rentboys, street signs, giant turds, pictures of London and more graffiti than Banksy will ever do. Your brain slowly starts to expect more and more of the packaged, standardised visual language they use. Cartoonesque, pervy and subverted with a degree of presentational uniformity only the truly anally retentive could achieve. You realise as you reel out of the exit that you will have to come back again for more.
[ Show continues until 7th May ]