Gilbert & George Give Back to East London with a Nonprofit Art Space

Much of their artwork is inspired by the area.

Gilbert & George at an opening of their show at Arndt Gallery in Berlin, 2012. Courtesy of Arndt

A new artist-run space is coming to Spitalfields, in east London. But don’t expect to see Gen-Y art students throwing ironic parties at the new address anytime soon, as the space will be run by two grey-haired men in brown suits: the inimitable Gilbert & George.

The quintessentially British artist duo were among the first of London’s art community to venture to the East End nearly 50 years ago, predating the transformation of the area (the artist couple, who famously never cook, have had their breakfast at the same Spitalfields café every day since ca. 1969).

Now, Gilbert & George want to give back to the area that has served as an inspiration for many of their artworks with an art space and a foundation. Last year, they bought a former, early-19th century brewery building on Heneage Street previously owned by artist Polly Hope, who passed away in 2013. Their plan for the re-purposing of the space proposes the demolition and rebuilding of a 1970s workshop as an exhibition space, a thorough refurbishment of the main building, and digging out a basement.

In 2010, the duo founded The Gilbert & George Center, a registered charity, which, according to The Guardian, will use the new address as “a non-profit foundation for contemporary art that operates purely for the public benefit with the aim to promote the education of the public in the arts,” and aims to benefit “both the local community as well as … attracting visitors from other locations.” Notably, the exhibitions will be free of charge.

Gilbert & George, The Red Sculpture Album (1975). Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art.

Gilbert & George, The Red Sculpture Album (1975). Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art.

Gilbert & George—who won the Turner Prize in 1986, and have represented the UK at the 2005 Venice Biennale—rose to fame in the early 1970s, after having settled in Spitalfields, and have dealt with the local community and life in London’d East End in much of their work. Speaking on their beloved multi-cultural neighborhood, George once stated: “Nothing happens in the world that doesn’t happen in the East End.”

Tower Hamlets council is slated to announce a final decision on Gilbert & George’s proposal around July 5.

Another former Turner Prize winner has also opened his own art space in London recently, albeit with a very different approach—Damien Hirst. His Newport Street gallery, which opened last year, was created to house the artist’s own holdings. A show of works by Jeff Koons from Hirst’s collection is currently on view.

However, in addition to giving back to their community, Gilbert & George might also be planning ahead for the future of their legacy. German artist Thomas Schütte recently announced that he was constructing a museum to house his artworks in the town of Hombroich, outside of Düsseldorf. “That was actually the starting point,” Schütte explained. “Thinking about what to do with all this stuff after I’m dead.”

Art lawyer Loretta Würtenberger, who recently launched the Institute for Artists’ Estates, and will present her new book about managing artists estates at Art Basel next week, explains that artist do well to think ahead. “If an artist really wants to take care of his legacy, there are two things to think of: How do they want their legacy to stay alive, and what provision could they take, like putting works aside, to make that possible.”

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