PRINT December 1995

Robert Rosenblum


In this Age of Facsimile, I hope it’s not against the rules to give first prize to a show I never got to see, GILBERT & GEORGE’s “Naked Shit Pictures” at the South London Gallery. But at least I had seen several of them in the works, and with the help of the catalogue, I could easily imagine what must have been a quantum leap in G&G’s mural-dimensional world. Within their domain of twinned self-portraiture, there is now a double exposure of both full-frontal and full-dorsal nudity (including buttholes) and, still more alarming, an extraterrestrial invasion of monumental turds. Yet thanks to the magical heraldry of their neoreligious mix of the worldly and the supernatural, these shockers fall quickly into mysteriously frozen place. It’s not hard to recall such earlier challenges to prudery as Robert Morris’ I-Box or Piero Manzoni’s canned merda; but G&G’s naked bodies and excrement belong to another planet entirely, rushing us from the scatological to the eschatological. Their giant altarpieces depict the terrifying connection between our animal selves, with our most repellent products, and the kind of cosmological structure that haunted medieval minds. While these pitifully stripped bodies return us to a universe of original sin, the loathsome turds are miraculously transformed into columnar symbols of earth and Christianity. They are pictures to ponder, even if, like me, you missed the show.


After viewing the “EDWARD HOPPER and the American Imagination” at the Whitney, I’m less convinced than ever that he rises above what Erwin Panofsky once called a “major minor master.” Indeed, given Hopper’s growing sanctification, even across the Atlantic, I wonder whether his one-note repetitions, decade after decade, of an initially magical formula can sustain the current pieties. But Hopper’s stature doesn’t concern me here as much as the way the museum turned his often clumsily painted canvases into cultural flash cards, surrounded by blown-up quotations from Goethe, Verlaine, and Frost. In effect, the pictures became billboard come-ons for the Masterpiece Theatre production at the exhibition’s core, a split-screen panorama of Hopper-mania, sucking spectators away from the dull old canvases outside. I’m sure this tough old Yankee will survive the ordeal, but I hope no other artist will be put to such a test again.

Robert Rosenblum is professor of fine arts at New York University.