Probably best described to the uninitiated as the mutant spawn of Morecome and Wise
and The Pet Shop Boys
, long serving ‘living artists’ Gilbert and George
are never short on controversy. They were shocking art crowds when the likes of Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin were still running around in short pants. Their latest offering, a free exhibition at the White Cube gallery in Bermondesy, is no exception, but more in its theme than in the more obvious confrontation of previous triumphs like scat-fest ‘The Naked Shit Pictures’.The first of the many immense, multilayered, conputer-manipulated pictures that inhabit the huge white walls of this former warehouse space, shows the pair poking their heads through seaside-style cut outs depicting hoodie-clad feral youth caught mid-riot, as a double decker bus careers dangerously towards the viewer. That’ll be ‘Welcome To London’ then.
‘Scapegoating Pictures….’ is very much about London, exclusively shot in and around the Brick Lane area that the pair made their home long before the Vibe Bar and Rough Trade East made the area hipster-central. We can thank the hipsters, however, for the only common theme in the pictures – discarded Nitrous Oxide or ‘hippy crack’ cannisters left in the street, which turn up in almost every picture. More often than not these dull metallic shells resemble bombs, and as such make a perfect background for the atmosphere of paranoia and cultural suspicion which has shadowed the capital ever since the 7/7 bombings.
So, one moment we’re looking at postsers defiantly declaring that the black flag of Islam will soon be flying over 10 Downing Street, or a row of sinister looking burka-clad women. The next, we see a Royal Mail manhole cover, the Queen in a ceremonial carriage, or Prince Charles’ coat of arms, with its German motto “Ich Dien” (I serve) on the reverse of a 2p piece blown up to huge proportions.
It all leads up to the exhibition’s central piece, a trio of massive pictures daubed with countless slogans, all imploring the viewer to commit varying acts of sexual impropriety on religious leaders of all denominations. A suitable climax – excuse the pun – with all the ingredients that typify Gilbert and George at their best – heresy and outrage mixed with a humour that’s as dark as it camp.
Rather than preaching any single, one dimensional message, ‘Scapegoating Pictures…’ is as multi layered thematically as the pictures themselves, challenging you for your response much more than telling you what to think. This much you can be sure about, however. You won’t see a more thought provoking, eerie, funny and life affirming an exhibition anywhere else this year.
Scapegoating Pictures For London by Gilbert and George
White Cube Bermondsey
144-152 Bermondsey Street
London SE1 3TG
Continues until September 28, 2014.