‘The Party Is Here’: Gilbert & George Have Unveiled Their Swanky New Art Center Which Is, Naturally, All About Them
The "art for all" center in East London will be free for the public.
When Gilbert & George first revealed that they decided to turn their discontent with the art establishment into a motivation to build their own art gallery to show their art, the idea caused a little storm.
Six years on, the controversy still lingers, but what the London-based artist duo pledged to do is finally realized, and they are keen to welcome visitors to the new permanent home for their art.
“Access. Access to pictures. Access,” George Passmore one half of the artist duo, told Artnet News, during the preview of the space. Gilbert Prousch, the second half, chimed in: “Access to our pictures, because we feel we offer all these ideas that people should be able to see.” The two were dressed in tailored suits, in complimentary brown and dark green.
Both in their early 80s, the artists sat in the newly minted gallery located on the top floor of the recently completed Gilbert & George Centre. Located in East London, the center is located at the site of a 19th-century brewery, which had previously been the home and studio of artist Polly Hope until she died in 2013; the pair acquired it in 2015. The neighborhood, home to Gilbert & George’s private residence and studio, has been an inspiration for their art for more than half a century.
The London- and Vienna-based firm SIRS Architects helmed the design and restoration of the site. Visitors entering through Heneage Street will first meet the green, hand-forged wrought iron gate the duo designed before setting foot in a courtyard punctuated by a Himalayan magnolia with fuchsia purple blooms is planted.
The main building is equipped with three galleries with exhibition space that totals more than 3,000 square feet across three floors. Books on the artists’s practice and works in limited edition including prints and ceramics can be found on display at the reception area on the ground floor. A film room showing the 1981 documentary The World of Gilbert & George, which the duo directed, can be found near the entrance of the cobbled courtyard.
The center, officially a non-profit, currently has two full-time employees. It is also free-of-charge—in-line with the duo’s belief “Art for All.” Works on show at the center are not for sale. How are they going to sustain the center’s operation? “By selling pictures? The only income we have ever had,” George answered.
“Maybe when we are bankrupt we change our mind,” Gilbert quipped.
The main purpose of the center, the duo stressed, is the exhibition of works that are otherwise not available to be seen elsewhere. It aims to stage one to two shows a year. “Because we live here and we have a big public out there. They all come to London,” Gilbert said. “There are very few places [here] where they can see our art.”
George added that they wanted to get around the cycle of waiting for shows. “We have shows at White Cube every three or four years. Once in a lifetime, you have a show at museums,” he said.
“You don’t have to go to a big museum to see just one piece only,” Gilbert noted. To the point: Inaugurating the center is exhibition of the 2019 series “The Paradisical Pictures,” which includes 25 large-scale works out of a 35-strong series, on view for the first time in London.
Their comments about waiting their turn echoed a remark the duo made in a 2017 interview in which they explained that they decided to open their own center because their work was “not good enough for the Tate,” (Tate did have an exhibition of the artists in 2007). In 2021 in a Financial Times interview, they said that “all the museums are now woke,” a comment that the duo declined to delve into further.
“Pardisical Pictures” depicts the artists wandering paradisiacal, psychedelic landscapes saturated with fruits, flowers, leaves, and trees as beautiful as the one in the space’s courtyard.
“Most people think paradise is the after-party, paradise [is what] you see after God. We reverse it. We begin with the paradise,” George said. “The party is here,” Gilbert chimed in.
“We call it the pre-cum party,” George added.
Speaking of a party, the pair were expecting a few days of celebration to mark the center’s opening. The space’s inauguration aligns with a show of their work on White Cube, called “The Corpsing Pictures.” It is on view at London’s Mason’s Yard and West Palm Beach in Florida.
In the end, the center has a simple aim, according to Gilbert: “We want to see people enjoying themselves, coming in to have a look, liking it or whatever. It’s a free world.”
The Gilbert & George Centre will open Friday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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