The White Cube Gallery cuts an imposing figure against its more traditional, serene surroundings, just a stones throw away from a bustling Piccadilly in London’s West End. Entering through large translucent doors and down an inauspicious, unassuming (and white, naturally) staircase makes the whole experience all the more breathtaking. The shadowy blocks against pallid walls make the space feel expansive yet constrictive. Here, two of Britain’s leading contemporary artists are showcasing another radical, controversial yet visually arresting piece of work.
Compiled over six years and using nearly 4,000 newspaper headline posters, Gilbert & George have created 292 pieces of work, with a selection shown across three London venues. Each piece in the collection consists of a range of recreated posters in blocks, with sizes of 2 x 3 to 10 x 5 blocks; each block containing a common word in each headline, highlighted in a bold red against a typeface that has become a mainstay across London’s streets.
Many of the words used are commonplace in tabloid media, and Gilbert & George have found an effective way to showcase these words. Their constant use and identification created a feeling of de-sensitisation to what, in many cases, are evocative and often emotional words. Using key words such as “baby”, “crack”, “tot” and “gang”, creates a subconscious imprint in the mind, and, in what is Gilbert & George’s finest achievement, brings the viewer to a state where they cannot differentiate between the nuances of the text.
The artistic flourishes still exist under the surface of the volatile and abrupt style. Beneath each set of images there are the familiar yet stark figures of Gilbert & George. In bleak hues and with penetrating stares, the images and visions of a desolate environment serve to illuminate the phrases and posters in the foreground. The tableaus of vicious imagery come in an eye-catching style that only serves to reinforce the vociferous nature of the headlines.
Gilbert & George also employ the word “straight” in the some of the pieces. Where each block has its keyword in the bottom left corner, sometimes this includes the word, an overt nod to the media’s use of “gay” in a derogatory sense, as a blanket term that only serves to stereotype.
In an interview, Gilbert described London as “the most on-edge city in the world,” and if this is their evidence for it then the case may be closed. Here is a perfectly weighted snapshot of London and the harsh use of rhetoric that can affect communities and society.
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