The above headline is sensational. The intention is that the drama and incrimination in this headline gets you intrigued. You should be. Gilbert and George’s latest London art exhibition comes at a time when news itself is in the dock, and as such bears testament to a society shaping and shaped by newspapers. Billboard posters stolen by the ubiquitous pair from newspaper stands in north and east London over the past decade have been scanned, collaged and printed into the largest series of artwork ever created by the Turner prize-winners.
The walls of London’s three White Cube galleries show just 72 of the 292 pictures in Gilbert and George’s ‘LONDON PICTURES’. But visitors, like me, who make it to just one gallery, may still feel overcome and suffocated by the vast grid-arrangements of bold and brash text. This seems intentional.
The pictures, in black, white, orange and red, are each united by one red highlighted word. ‘Islam-Straight’ shows just four posters saying: ‘EXTREMIST ISLAM STRATEGY ATTACKED’, ‘LONDON ISLAM SCHOOL ‘TEACHES HATE’’, ‘ISLAM GROUP’S LAST MEETING’, and finally, ‘ISLAM STRAIGHT 2011 A LONDON PICTURE IT’S WRITTEN ALL OVER THEM’. The last panel appears in each of the pictures, with its highlighted word at the top, above a photocopy of the queen’s head from a coin of one date or another – giving royal assent to the bill-board.
The works are above all a British phenomenon – Gilbert and George’s poster pilfering became something of a social experiment, and the number of posters in each piece seems reflects on society and newsmakers alike. In the background of the letters, ever-present, are the faces and eyes of the artists. London streets and flower-patterned curtains curve into view behind the block capitals; entrenching the drama in the same streets where Gilbert and George take their daily strolls, and the same streets which visitors will step back in to.
The exhibition is heavy-handed and humorous. Like the best headlines it might grab you in the guts, and like the worst it can leave you feeling numb to the worst of society’s ills, and baffled by the boom and bust of what is ‘bad’.
Showing free at Bermondsey and Mason’s Yard until May 12, and Hoxton Square until April 14. Tel: 02079305373, www.whitecube.com
London Art Exhibition Feature by Joanna Eckersley