Cologne

Gilbert & George

Jablonka Galerie

Gilbert & George’s approach to autobiography stems from a long tradition of social commentary in British art. They are as concerned with societal values and autobiography’s moral compass as they are with increasingly complex relations between individuals and the masses, and these concerns find graphic realization in their new work, “The Naked Shit Pictures.”

The subjects covered in these 16 paintings verge on the horrifying: human nudity, excrement, city streets, the masses. Gilbert & George themselves are the only common element. In these new paintings, Gilbert & George conjure up the true horrors of being human. There it is, in Mob Law (all works 1994), the mass of humanity turned away from the viewer, while the artists face us, their fists raised, standing next to columns of shit. Their use of theme and color is equally impressive: blue and red and naked flesh. This series of new pantings is colored by an emotional palette that encompasses rebellion, resistance, and simply feeling horrible. The juxtaposition of columns of excrement and the naked body seems to render all that is human base, though when the artists expose themselves, as in Bum Holes, they do so behind the protective certainty that this act is art.

Fundamental autobiographical facts rub against the boundaries of good taste—whatever that is—but the suspicion that such work is intended to liberate both society and the individual seems entirely credible. And at any rate, “The Naked Shit Pictures” are themselves very beautiful and play with distance and direction, both in composition and in their use of color. Above all, they center around what constitutes the human and the artistic at a time when both notions seem to have reached a state of crisis.

Norbert Messler

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.