Critics’ Picks

Gilbert & George, Church of England, 2008, mixed media, 89 x 75".


Gilbert & George

Fasanenstraße 28
June 16–September 18

By sheer endurance alone, jovial gentleman anarchists Gilbert & George are inarguably most deserving of the rock-star status that the art world tends to arbitrarily confer on its denizens, and the “Jack Freak Pictures,” their largest series to date, may well be the duo’s Divina Commedia. Twenty of the 153 pictures, forming a dizzying kaleidoscopic meditation on the Union Jack and, unsurprisingly, freakdom, are on display.

When one thinks of “nation,” inevitably the notion of the masses comes to mind. With great (mock) seriousness, Gilbert & George, often in heavily distorted guise, stand in for the populace in huge paneled patchworks of color, many of which are heavily layered with deconstructive riffs on the Union flag. The large images featured in the gallery’s main hall are more abstract. Spider (all works 2008) presents a black-and-white map of the duo’s home turf of East London, framed by fun-house-mirror-like distortions of the artists’ visages in each corner. With iconoclasts’ keen understanding of the Byzantine, Gilbert & George demonstrate the creepiness that emerges where the cartographic meets the sacred. The diptych White Army goes even further into the fields of delirium, putting forth a near-nauseating scary-go-round of the duo’s faces.

Behind all the anarchy is a meditation on symbolism, particularly the ways in which national symbols come to define one’s sense of self. In a group of smaller pictures, Gilbert & George choose to present themselves as both products and critics of this molding process. They form the pillars in Church of England, standing on either side of a crucified Jesus, all three decked out in outfits overlaid with the Union Jack (in doing so, they expose the inherent absurdity of uniting the disparate abstract concepts “England” and “Jesus”), while the confrontational graffiti of Hoi Polloi further proves that the duo have not lost their antiauthoritarian ethos.