It’s trendy to knock Gilbert & George as a kind of backlash against the alleged shallow pretentiousness of the Brit Art Movement, to which they do not belong but have almost certainly inspired. But the Tate’s retrospective, Gilbert & George Major Exhibition shows that it’s the backlash that’s shallow.
Images like Four Knights show the late 1970s London bovver boys I dodged on my way home from school exactly as I remember them. Nevertheless, while England is hilarious now it’s possible to see how, at a time when these bovver boys provoked more fear than mockery, it was possible to believe the artists were fascists rather than satirists.
The specially made bomber series risks misreading from being too close to events. Presenting themselves as suicide bombers risks upsetting some, but in time will come to sum-up a fearful claustrophobia felt by many. (What more backhanded complement could there be than to tell the Evening Standard its posters are their favourites?)
Kicking off with charcoal on paper sculptures from 1970, Major Exhibition reveals a growing confidence with each year bringing bolder, brighter colours as the duo shake off the melancholy of their early days. Gilbert & George’s art is always intensely personal, but its message is increasingly universal.