Photo by Kin Cheung/The Associated Press
Look Who’s in the New White CubeBy JOYCE HOR-CHUNG LAU
In recent years, Larry Gagosian, Ben Brown and other major dealers have followed the money trail to Hong Kong, which has become the world’s third-largest art market in terms of revenue — thanks to wealthy Chinese buyers, a booming auction scene and an art fair that has grown into a major event in less than five years. The city, long derided as a cultural desert, now has more big-name international galleries than probably anywhere else in Asia. (It’s still lacking truly great museums, but that’s another story).
White Cube Hong Kong, the London gallery’s first venture outside Britain, is the largest among the new offerings. It also had the quirkiest opening show – the world premiere of “London Pictures,” the latest series by Gilbert & George, the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of the art world. Gilbert Proesch and George Passmore, a gentlemanly couple who dress near identically and complete each other’s sentences, used hundreds of sensationalistic tabloid headlines to make the series’ 292 works. In fact, they stole them from unwitting London newspaper vendors. One man would distract the proprietor by buying a chocolate bar, and his husband would whisk away the poster with that day’s headlines — turning them into probably the East End’s oldest and best-dressed petty thieves.
According to Mr. Steele, Gilbert & George have not changed their prices since 2005, “which is remarkable for artists of their importance, though perhaps not surprising for artists whose mantra is ‘art for all.’ ”
“London Pictures” is far too big to be shown in one place at one time. So the Hong Kong show will be followed by openings at three White Cube spaces in London this Friday, and then in various other galleries in Europe and the United States.
Read more about White Cube Hong Kong and Gilbert & George in Joyce Hor-Chung Lau’s article here.
And the proper article in the I.H.T. and N.Y.T.
Gilbert & George Take Britain to Asia
Photo c. Gilbert & George, via White Cube
By JOYCE HOR-CHUNG LAU
HONG KONG — Interviewing the art duo Gilbert & George is like talking to Tweedledum and Tweedledee — not only because they are inseparable, dress near identically and complete each other’s sentences, but because they are so eccentric in that very British way.
Gilbert Proesch, 68, and George Passmore, 70, have long appeared together in their works — both in early performance art and in Pop Art pastiches inspired by the urban weirdness of London’s East End, where the two have lived together for more than 40 years. They have become contemporary art icons, winning the Turner Prize in 1986, and putting on the largest artist retrospective to date at the Tate Modern in 2007.
Dandyish in their fine tweed suits, they possessed the calm of any couple who have been together for nearly a half-century (they were married in 2008) and seemed quietly bemused by the hurry and flurry of their latest trip to Hong Kong for the unveiling last Friday of their new series “London Pictures” — an event that also marked the opening of White Cube Hong Kong, the first overseas branch of the London gallery that represents Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst.
It was the first stop for “London Pictures,” which comprises a whopping 292 works, and is so enormous that it would be impossible to display in just one of the White Cube’s venues. There will be more openings Friday at three White Cube spaces in London. After that, “London Pictures” will move to other galleries in New York, Paris, Salzburg, Naples, Brussels and Athens. Eventually, Gilbert & George are hoping for larger-scale museum installations.
Major Western galleries, like Ben Brown and Gagosian, have opened Hong Kong branches in recent years. But Graham Steele, the director of White Cube Asia, said they hoped to offer something other than more high-priced celebrity artists in their two-story, 6,000-square-foot, or 557-square-meter, space in the city’s Central District.
“Each show we curate will be new and we will try to fly the artists out,” said Mr. Steele. “We’re not interested in bringing out shows shown in New York four years ago.”
Mr. Steele said that White Cube saw itself as something more than just a commercial enterprise, which is why a library was built into the Hong Kong space.
“Gilbert & George have about 150 publications — for example, the catalog from their 1993 show in China,” Mr. Steele said. “Everything we’ve done is archived, like sketches from Tracey Emin’s first show. And no other gallery in Hong Kong is doing that.”
Messrs. Passmore and Proesch, whose works draw heavily on urban life, said they had explored the grittier parts of the city.
“Hong Kong, we love,” Mr. Passmore said. “Oh, but we saw the dirty part last night, in back of the hotel.”
“There were dripping ducks,” Mr. Proesch said.
“And strange animals,” Mr Passmore added.
Gilbert & George have long produced “Pictures” series, which have used racist slurs, nudity and obscenities to address issues like patriotism and crime.
“They are about the dynamics, the pain, the serial violence of metropolitan cities,” Mr. Steele said.
Compared to past works, the “London Pictures” have a relatively restricted palette: tabloid black and white, highlighted with blood red. The only other hue is the eerie flesh tone of Gilbert & George’s faces, which hover like apparitions in the background.
There are two recurrent elements: splashy newspaper headlines and Queen Elizabeth II’s profile, as seen on coins. These are particularly apt images for Hong Kong, a city with its own raucous tabloid press and a former British colony where so-called “queen coins” can still be found in pocket change, though more rarely these days.
As with most Gilbert & George creations, the idea was inspired by daily East End life.
“We saw a policeman and policewoman ringing a doorbell, and we got an awful thought in the head, an awful feeling in the stomach — death, suicide, a motorcycle accident,” Mr. Passmore said. “Whatever it was, it would be on a newspaper poster for only one day; but the tragedy and sorrow of what had happened would affect that family forever.”
“Artwork is frozen in time forever,” Mr. Proesch added, his voice still tinted with the accent of his native Italy. “So we started to steal posters the next day.”
Newspaper vendors were unwilling to hand over the posters proclaiming that day’s headlines, so the two became perhaps the oldest and best-dressed petty thieves in East London. One would distract the proprietor by going inside to buy a Mars bar, they said, and the other would steal the sign out on the sidewalk.
“We spread them out and had this huge carpet of sorrow. And we thought, ‘Is this the world we live in?”’ Mr. Passmore asked.
Aside from describing their chocolate-bar escapades, they refused to answer any questions about how they have managed to work together for so long.
“You must never ask us that question,” Mr. Proesch said.
“It’s not a collaboration, as we are two men, one artist. It just happens like magic,” Mr. Passmore added. “We made one rule in 1969: Never discuss. We don’t argue. But even if we did, we wouldn’t tell you.”
As monarchists and supporters of the former British Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the duo have unusual politics for members of the art world.
“We didn’t see the movie,” Mr. Passmore said, in reference to “The Iron Lady.” “We saw the real thing. She opened the economy.”
“And that’s why the art world became successful,” Mr. Proesch said.
The self-described “former country bumpkins” were influenced by the fact that they were among the less affluent students at the Saint Martins School of Art in the 1960s, and struggled to make a living. It was only when England’s economy improved in the 1980s under Mrs. Thatcher, they said, that artists like them could afford to support themselves.
“Before, you couldn’t be a self-sufficient artist in England,” Mr. Passmore said. “And we didn’t want to be goody-goody artists who went out and got grants or a teaching job or a trip to Rome.”
They established their home and studio in the then-unfashionable neighborhood of Spitalfields — it was only long after that it became the center of London’s thriving creative scene.
“All the world is an art gallery, or at least that’s true where we live,” Mr. Passmore said. “Now in every back street there’s some pop-up art gallery run by a Bulgarian curator. Anyone who created anything, they moved to Spitalfields.”
“Forty, fifty years ago, nobody could name a living artist,” Mr. Proesch said. “That changed in the 1980s. Art became famous in London, more famous than anywhere else.”
“The press coverage is massive, much more so than in Paris or New York. Art reviews take up two full pages in the newspaper,” Mr. Passmore said. “People look at us through the window of the restaurant where we eat dinner every night.”
“We take the bus and wave down like we’re the queen,” Mr. Proesch said.
It was out of concern about their legacy that they married several years ago.
“This way, when we are no longer here, our house, studio and archives will remain,” Mr. Passmore said. “Otherwise, we don’t need the papers for a fake straight marriage. We were always romantic anyway.”
Despite their fame, the two men lead a quaintly domestic life.
“We do a big show. Then we go back to the studio and don’t see anyone. That’s it.” Mr. Proesch said. “One hour without George and I’d be very lonely.”
“We live a very, very quiet life,” Mr. Passmore said. “We don’t go to the Gucci parties.”
Yet the next night, they were at an opening so loud that attendees had to yell at each other over their Champagne flutes. Gilbert & George were squashed into a corner next to the library, patiently signing autographs. Their next scheduled event wasn’t quite Gucci, but it was close — dinner at the private club Armani Privé.
The crowd — a combination of genuine art enthusiasts and nouveau-riche beautiful people — were heading out. A Porsche, a Jaguar and a Ferrari battled for space on the curb outside the new White Cube door.
Upstairs, Mr. Passmore smiled gamely for one more iPhone photo and put a hand on Mr. Proesch’s arm. “We got a bit of rest, but we are...”
“... a little tired,” Mr. Proesch finished for him.
“London Pictures” at the White Cube Hoxton Square, London, through April 14; White Cube Hong Kong, 50 Connaught Road, through May 5; White Cube Bermondsey and Mason’s Yard, London, through May 12.