Following the huge success of their show at London’s Tate Gallery, Gilbert & George arrived in Florence to receive the Award “Lorenzo il Magnifico” for Lifetime Achievement, which was presented during the awards ceremony of the VI Florence Biennale, in front of an audience of more than eight hundred participating artists.
Accompanying them was Tim Marlow, who is the Director of Exhibits at London’s White Cube Gallery, the founder of the Tate Magazine, and who collaborates with Channel Five presenting current exhibitions. The presence of the British artists enlivened the entire edition: they gave an amusing interview, hosted by Tim Marlow, about their life and their career and showed a video-documentary that they had made and that included their commentary.
Gilbert was born in 1942 in San Martino in the Dolomites, and George was a born a year later in Devonshire. They met in 1967 in London while attending St. Martin School of Art, where both of them studied sculpture. Their fist show, Singing sculpture, was held in front of a student audience in 1969. The duo presented themselves as “living sculptures”, giving up their last name and their identity, “ because we come from nothing and where we go nobody knows”. In 1971 they had their first exhibit, presenting their first gigantic black and white images at Whitechapel in London, at Kunstverein in Düsseldorf, and at the Stedelijk in Amsterdam. They found success in 1972, when they were invited to Kassel’s show Documenta and the Daily Mirror dubbed them “the great new phenomenon in the art world”. In 1976 they had their first museum exhibit in the US, at the Albrightknox in Buffalo.
In 1977 they stopped presenting themselves as living sculptures and their huge collages, which had always been structured in a grid and featured images of the artists, began to change: initially only in black and white, they began to add red as
a symbol of despair, and in 1980 their collages suddenly became extremely colourful. In that same year they participated in the Venice Biennale. In 1986 they received the Turner Prize from London’s Tate Gallery. Starting in 2003 they began to use digital technology and to experiment with different effects, such as doubling the same half of a face. In 2007 the Tate Modern hosted them during the largest retrospective ever dedicated to living artists. Their artistic career has also been honoured by the “Lorenzo il Mangifico” for Lifetime Career Award, which they received during the VI edition of the Biennale of Contemporary Art in Florence.
Their private life is just like that of most Englishmen. One can find them in the phone book and meet them on the bus. Some of their recurring themes are: religion, sex, issues concerning race, and personal identity. Their main protagonist is the metropolis, and the tensions and desire that arise form the encounter-collision between different ethnicities, values, and traditions. However, the main characteristic of their work is the idea of nestling all of man’s life into artistic experience: every moment and every single individual, including themselves. This brings into being “Art for All’, a concept developed in the context of London’s East End, where the two have been living and working for 40 years, and which remains their main source of inspiration. This idea doesn’t exclude anything from art, not even highly disturbing elements or those left unnamed due to excessive righteousness. Their art does not exclude bodily fluids, like blood or faeces, both examples of Body Art.
In the ‘80s they dedicate some paintings to blood molecules by titling them For Aids, and in 2007, at the Tate’s Six Bomb Pictures, they portrayed London during the terrorist attacks of June 2005. For Gilbert & George art is nothing more than a re-elaboration of life and therefore it must necessarily have an educational function, indicating how to overcome taboos, be they religious, cultural, or social.