New York

Gilbert and George

Sperone Westwater Fischer Gallery

Normally, Gilbert and George (Gilbert Proesch and George Passmore) are the direct subject of their work, either through their performances as living sculptures, or through the flotsam and jetsam of the documentation of their passage or projected passage through particular spaces, times, or events. The documentation takes the form of deliberately antiquing drawings and photographs of themselves in situ and the usual ephemeral matter, such as match boxes and cocktail napkins, which record one’s presence in a specific locale.

In the present “sculptures,” they use a more depersonalized medium, old standard 3 1/2-x-5 1/2-inch picture postcards which are laid out in a series of rectangles like some vast version of the card game “Concentration.” The images on the cards cover a wide range of subjects — the Boer war, photographic portraits of royalty (especially the children of the British Royal family), famous actors, anecdotal “joke” cards, standard landscapes and views of national monuments, and sentimental clusters of flowers.

All collections, whether they be of art, antiques or sea shells, reveal the personality and taste of the collector. I conjured up an image of the person who collected the postcards—an anonymous, slightly fussy Edwardian child who was dazzled by actors and royalty, but took ordinary vacations and had a number of traveling relatives who did not pander to his/her obsessions, and sent more mundane postcards. These were all meticulously preserved in postcard albums. At the same time the postcards seem wholly impersonal. It is as if Gilbert and George went to a store specializing in memorabilia and bought boxes of the stuff in a fit of instant nostalgia. Does it matter that the sculpture does not have an attachment to the collecting process? I believe it does. Gilbert and George are poseurs par excellence, and if they merely purchased the postcards while retaining an air of significant attachment to a particular person, the work becomes equally a pose on much the same level as their earlier dramatic personae.

Unlike a tarot card reading, where reversed and inverted cards have a special significance and the actual order of the cards is important for ascertaining their meaning, Gilbert and George’s postcard images are laid out in a higgledy-piggledy fashion. When material of this kind is presented as art it is usually arranged in a linear sequence. Within the lines or columns of Gilbert and George’s postcards, two distinct types of composition appear. Although the postcards could be an unending sequence, the discrete pieces are sometimes framed by grouping a series of like images such as roses around the border to serve as an internal frame. The works are commonly organized around one or more pairs of cards. This may be the central placement of twin images such as two different views of the same urchin boy smoking a cigarette with handwritten get-well messages on the bottom. Gilbert and George’s more usual form of patterning is to focus a particular sculpture around the juxtaposition of an image or series of images with an inverted version of a similar if not identical image. Yet overall, the postcard sculptures leave one with a sense of emptiness, because they are too facile and indiscriminate.

Ann-Sargent Wooster