Gilbert and George Disappear Women; MONA
Gilbert and George met at art school in 1967. They were so poor and alone; they had to turn to themselves to make art. They inserted themselves into the gallery and declared themselves the art. Hence the birth of their Living Sculptures, performed for their Graduate Show. Men take up the spotlight with such ease. Gilbert and George’s radical beginnings (their Living Sculptures) did to performance, what Duchamp’s Urinal did to sculpture. Chewed it up and spat it out (with friendly contempt). Each work represents a seismic shift, in how we think about that particular genre and the aftershocks of such a leap in thought can still be felt. Proof that smart, creative people can turn any circumstance to their advantage, even disadvantage. Duchamp put whatever he liked on the plinth and declared it art, modernists removed the plinth, Gilbert and George removed the sculpture. Two men, one artwork. So far so good.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wxq4pmHysT0 Gilbert & George, the early years 5 mins
How they haven’t got sick to death of the sight of each other after more than 40 years, is testimony to their shared art philosophy: ‘You ask a question and someone is there to give you an answer’ sums up the advantages of being part of a duo.
They first put on their responsibility suits 40 years back and they haven’t taken them off yet. Actually, they have taken their suits off quite frequently, for art. But that came later. Then, they dropped their drawers, for art, they bent over and touched their toes. For art. Gilbert & George are methodical, and mechanical. Like Kraftwerk (whom they also inspired: the suits, the album cover design in limited palette and strong graphics) but not as good. Kraftwerk wrote us Models. That’s about women. Gilbert & George’s work expresses the gay male experience from the late 60’s to the present day perfectly. It’s just a shame they didn’t run into more women along the way.
The current MONA exhibition of 97 pictures, from 1970-2014, demonstrates how comprehensively Gilbert & George have pictorially disappeared women. In gallery after gallery, huge images of men greet the audience. Old men, young men, nude men, black men, rent boys. If you like looking at men, this is the show for you. They could have called the show It’s a Man’s World. The publicity blurb claims the show is a view of the modern world. A modern world where some triffids have gobbled up every woman living in the East End of London throughout the past 44 years. Gorblimey! This show is the male-on-male gaze on performance enhancing drugs. The tedium, the repetition of their process was palpable. I wanted Vivienne Westwood to punch G&G in the chops, like she used to hit Malcolm McLaren down the local boozer. Tell them to try something new for dinner. More than once.
However, Gilbert & George just look and look and look at men. At each other and at other men. Their lust is exhausting. It’s unquenchable, it’s insatiable, and it’s not nearly as fun as I’d once thought. In the entire exhibition there was just one image of a woman in a burqa, and some text about menstruating in a mosque.
The passive/aggressive omission of women within their work mightn’t be about sexism, it might just be about sex, lust. Anyway, whatever floats their boat, all luck to them, there’s not much for me to hook into, conceptually speaking. A woman might best stay home and read a Boy’s Own Annual from 1967.
I wanted to love Gilbert & George, but I can’t having seen this show. I’d been watching them on YouTube all week, and hadn’t seen a chink in their armour. I hadn’t allowed my brain to see the bleeding obvious: Gilbert & George don’t see women. It’s so disappointing. They don’t even see us as Nuns, or prostitutes or pole dancers. They mustn’t have sisters or aunts, or nieces or mums, or Grandmas. These poor dudes have really missed out. On a whole gender. They’ve done a lot of things for art, but they sure as hell haven’t seen women.
Gilbert and George claim there are universal themes here: ‘Death, Hope, Life, Fear, Sex, Money, Race and Religion. Seeing is believing.’ If you’re a man and over half the world haven’t been born that way. What a pair of assholes. Seriously. Because I take offense at being disappeared, at women being disappeared. It’s a slippery and dangerous war Gilbert & George have waged on women too, because they have very good manners. They are charming and shocking and they have ritualistically not seen women. Anywhere. You claim your work speaks to young people, but young people like women a lot more than old people like you do. I think. They have been so methodical in waging a long campaign for gay rights, that they’ve accidently stepped on the toes of women’s rights.
It’s unbelievable how long they’ve kept up and not once thought: ‘look, we’re doing quite well now, we’re International Art Stars. We love our mate Shirley; why not immortalize Shirley in one of our huge collaged photomontages, as a gesture of love and respect for her. Shirley has a very interesting face, and given that we’re talking about universal themes, why not include Shirley in our Universe. Let’s immortalize Shirley shall we? Let’s hang Shirley in the Museum.’
I may have found myself a new job: Advising International Art Stars on how not to alienate half the Universe.
I’ll add it to my Telling Curators what shows they should be doing series (more on this later).
‘Gilbert & George’, I’ll begin calmly, ‘How about whacking the Queen Mother into this Dusty Corner series. She liked a Gordons Gin almost as much as you did during your drunken binges in the ’70s. That’s a conceptual hook right there. Cilla Black. Don’t you like Cilla Black RIP? Or Dusty Springfield? How’s about Dusty and Cilla and Adele go in this big one over here? Maggie Thatcher (now there was a strike-breaker!) could hold up a montage on her own she could. The Queen (she’s almost as rich as you guys). You could try to get the Queen to denounce the church she heads. Religion is so bad, that’s common sense. She’s pretty cluey; you guys could probably talk her into that Gilbert & George. That could be a part of your Scape Goat series.
‘Let’s get Mad Tracey Emin from Margate over for a photo shoot. She’s just ‘round the corner isn’t she? And we’ll give that Sarah Lucas a call, she likes cocks almost as much as you guys! And she can bring over kebabs. Kebabs for everyone, for an early supper. Sarah and Tracey and Gillian Wearing, each holding a kebab near their cunts, that is a work I’d buy. And I have a keen radar for bullshit, me.’
Gilbert & George mistrust the British Art establishment (which is fair) because the establishment clearly can’t tell right from wrong. That’s the result of centuries of inbreeding. The Establishment are often not the sharpest knife in the drawer, not the brightest candle on the cake, not the smartest horse in the stable. Poor things. You’d almost feel sorry for them if they weren’t so goddamned loaded. Charles ‘The London Strangler’ Saatchi is a desperate try-hard wannabe and not part of the English establishment. He’s an advertising man, and that dear chaps, is terribly common. The Habsburg’s, that’s a close-knit family right there. Think no chins/cleft palettes. The lot of them. Yikes, those Habsburg’s gave the twins out of Flowers in the Attic a few lifestyle concepts to play round with. Which brings us neatly back to Tasmania….
I kept trying to think up what Joan Rivers would say to Gilbert and George if she saw what I was seeing. What I wasn’t seeing. But Joan knew where her party wasn’t.
More heroes not standing up to scrutiny. Gilbert & George look establishment, they dress like wealthy, eccentric bankers, and they think like bankers too.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9OGziyW-_FY Gilbert & George get down to Bend It 2.49mins
It was with some relief that I finally got to the end of MONA’s Gilbert & George Pictures Show. I hadn’t expected to find the enemy there, but they’d sure as hell turned up and kept my hate fresh.
Down the MONA birth canal tunnel we walked, to the Katthy Cavaliere, Loved exhibition. I’ve never been so happy to see a collection of fluffy toys; what Charles Winnacott called transitional objects, the objects from our childhoods that take on special powers and comfort us through the trauma of growing up. Katthy Cavaliere (1972-2012) seemed to like being a girl more than a woman, and she revisits this developmental stage over and over again within her work. It’s a hard job being a kid, and there’s some sense of that too. There’s a lot of tap-dancing round adults to do. The video of Katthy tap dancing round Artspace, Sydney, whilst her mum sings Well Hello Dolly is a heart-breakingly beautiful piece of humanity to behold. The exhibition, curated by Daniel Mudie Cunningham, is a sensitive presentation of art, by an intriguing artist who is much missed.
Lester Bangs is also much missed. Lester was a great writer and pioneer. There’s something about him that reminds me of David Walsh. That’s a big ups. Example (and I’m not thinking Walshy is like Elvis): I’m thinking he’s a warped visionary. Like Lester Bangs, the man who thought up these words:
‘When Elvis started wiggling his hips and Ed Sullivan refused to show it, the entire country went into a paroxysm of sexual frustration leading to abiding discontent which culminated in the explosion of psychedelic militant folklore which was the sixties.
I mean, don’t tell me about Lenny Bruce, man – Lenny Bruce said dirty words in public and obtained a kind of consensual martyrdom. Plus which Lenny Bruce was hip, too goddam hip if you ask me, which was his undoing, whereas Elvis was not hip at all. Elvis was a goddam truck driver who worshipped his mother and would never say shit or fuck around her, and Elvis alerted America to the fact that it had a groin with imperatives that had been stifled. Lenny Bruce demonstrated how far you could push a society as repressed as ours and how much you could get away with, but Elvis kicked “How Much Is That Doggy In The Window” out the window and replaced it with “Let’s fuck.”
Lester Bangs, Psychotic Reactions and Carburettor Dung, p215
Lester Bangs talks about music and culture and we see it differently. He links seemingly disparate facets together it makes sense. But its straight out of the sun. Lester’s logic is shocking. Logically shocking.
David Walsh is logically shocking too: Glenorchy, Hobart, cultural tourism, underground museum, music festival, shit machine and posh grub doesn’t make much sense either, but Walsh has made it work. I think. Talk about a big set of balls, this guy really backs himself.
David Walsh has changed the way Australia thinks about culture. He’s changed the way overseas visitors look at art in Australia. David Walsh has changed quite a bit, and he’s having a lot of fun doing it. It’s been rapid change, (like BC/AD), the Australian cultural landscape can be deciphered as either pre MONA (PreMO), or post MONA (PoMO). PreMO was a more wholesome time than PoMO, but that black cat just won’t go back into that bag. Now it’s been let out. Every time you go to MONA you’re extra relieved to get back home again.
MONA is a museum not of conviction and progress, but of doubt and questioning, of despair and wonder; made not by committee, neither celebrating nation nor seeking to preach orthodoxy, freed from the desire to educate. Certain only of its own uncertainty, it touches something of now. To an outsider, it looks like Tim and Hairpin, and a mother who couldn’t show affection and a sister who burnt in a different way, while to Walsh it’s just where the dice roll led. Chance, history, a lost island that dealt in dreams and nightmares – whatever explanation is forthcoming is futile. All that can be said is that David Walsh made something genuinely new. Richard Flanagan
There’s an excitingly dangerous element to the MONA vision, which is what us plebs who can’t add up are attracted to. You don’t usually overhear ‘God I wish I’d listened harder in math class’ uttered at music festivals. The probability of hearing those words at MONA though, is higher than say Glastonbury.
Apart from David Walsh, the other single most significant contribution to art in Australia in the recent past has been from Doug Hall. Doug isn’t a rich gambling tycoon philanthropist like Walshy, he made his contribution when Director of Queensland Art Gallery. So the state was on his side, the state employed him. Doug made a great curatorial decision when he established the Asia Pacific Triennial. Doug pulled a Paul Keating and reminded Australia where the hell we are on the map.
GOMA does well out of the APTs and I’ve got an idea for another Blockbuster show for them. It’s part of a new series of works I’m performing, it doesn’t make me a lot of friends, but it’s as fun as hell: I get ‘round openings telling curators what shows they should be doing. Curators don’t take advice well, even if the idea’s a good one. I throw round Exhibition concepts like a buff juggler from Circus Oz. It’s a new series, so far I’ve told an ACMI curator to curate Destiny Deacon, Tracey Moffatt, Rachel Perkins and Fiona Foley (with her video of the poppy fields), into a Blockbuster: Aboriginal women and the moving image. I haven’t thought up a title yet, so I guess the show is still in development. Giants within their field, they should be household names, and Arts institutions here should work tirelessly until they are. This would be an excellent show I’d pay top dollar to see.
Back to GOMA, here’s my idea for GOMA: MONA GOES GOMA.
GOMA opens its art collection to David and his team and they do whatever the hell they want with it. Collection shows are cheap (everyone knows that) and it would still go off. And bands too, a music festival – MONA FOMA GOES GOMA. KAchink. The ticket sales would go off like Grandma on another lonely pokies bender.
The artist I’ve selected for exhibition at MONA is Cynthia Plaster Caster. Cynthia is of special significance as she elevates the space that groupie’s inhabit and takes it to new heights. Like all great groupies, she’s an aficionado of music. She knows what she’s into. Frank Zappa wanted to make her a star, but then he went and dropped dead instead.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m727QjE2HRI 3.49mins. Trailer to the Cynthia Plaster Caster documentary
Together. Gilbert & George always feel under attack, and they always want to win. And they have. Thank fuck for that, say Gilbert & George, who have always been very keen on the entire range of swear words available to English speakers.
‘Where do you get the shits you use in your art from?’ asks the News of the World reporter.
‘Harrods’, reply Gilbert & George.
Feminism is degenerating into something so silly and angry, the hill it has chosen to die on now is calling male homosexuality misogynistic, now trying to shame male homosexuals into including females in their fantasy world. Every human emotion is liable to be made art of. This includes eroticism, including, gasp! male homoeroticism. Art by itself a selection and rejection of material, an exaggeration and a suppression of certain traits, to achieve the aesthetic ideal that corresponds to the artist. You cannot object to an artist that a certain material doesn’t arouse this aesthetic state more than you can object to a gay man that the female won’t arouse in him that other state. But it’s OK, honey; if you hadn’t noticed, the media is already saturated with plastic female imagery. You can’t be in G&G but you are everywhere else.
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I just wanted to say what a load of bullshit. Saying that G&G ‘disappear’ women is like saying Barbara Kruger disappears men or Andy Warhol disappears the unfamous. It’s a ludicrous position.
‘What a pair of arseholes’, ‘waged war on women’, ????? WTF?!!!!
As a homosexual man I might take offense at your smartarse digs and unfunny attempt at being satirical but I’m not that easily offended.
If I were to be I couldn’t look at Matisse, too many women, or Richard Prince, too many hetero cowboys, or Mary Kelly, too much shit.
Yours is a piss weak argument and you’d be better served by looking at how Gilbert and George have highlighted the hypocrisy of modern England, the way they showcase the racism of their fellow citizens and the way homosexual men are marginalised even still.
‘Arseholes’? Who the fuck are you to call them that? Sorry but that rant was a whole lot of ‘notice what an observant, clever, post feminist academic I am’.
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I liked this article, also the photos, thank-you!
I get so terribly bored with too many men on paper, on celluloid, on screens, on panels.
I felt your ennui.
So, you just post a lot of provocative anti white homosexual art critique without any responsibility to defend what you say or back it up?
Your silence echoes and reinforces my sentiments.
“A modern world where some triffids have gobbled up every woman living in the East End of London throughout the past 44 years”
actually Natty – in 1888 – there was a predator out there in the East End of London removing women off the streets and he remains famous to this day – Jack the Ripper …