Tate has acquired one of the central works of Gilbert and George’s presentation at the Venice Biennale, Fates 2005. Measuring more than four by seven metres, the work forms part of the Gingko series, a group of twenty-five pieces which use the Chinese Gingko leaf as a recurring motif.
In the Gingko series, along with other recent groups of works, Gilbert and George have used exclusively digital editing techniques. This marks a shift in their practice, and refinement of the formal character of their work. This technology intensifies the almost audacious, poster-like use of colour that characterises much of their earlier work. Digitisation of the production process now creates a new kind of image, in which deeply saturated fields of colour are given extra depth and contrast explicitly with the grainy, collaged photographic elements. This creates a more spatial, and spectacular, industrial effect.
Fates fuses a number of elements common to the Gingko series as a whole, which reflect the artists’ local community and environment. Young Asian men feature in the lower part of the work, a reference to the global culture of Brick Lane and East London, where the artists have lived since the 1960s, a fact reinforced by architectural elements of that part of the city in the background to the work. At the heart of the picture are the artists themselves, defiantly flicking v-signs as they stare out at the viewer. These self-portraits take one half of their subject and mirror it, so that both Gilbert and George are represented as totally symmetrical. This effect is repeated with the representations of the Asian men and of hands at the base of the work. The use of text, central to Gilbert and George’s work, shows the clear influence of eastern scripts in this series.
Gilbert and George met in 1967 at St Martin’s School of Art. They have since fused their lives and art, creating a trademark image of both art and lifestyle. The artists themselves are both the subject and the object of their art, and they experiment with different techniques and themes. Their early work used a variety of media from performance to video, but their work since the early 1970s has consisted predominantly of ‘photo-pieces’- large and often dramatically coloured works which resemble profane stained glass windows. The artists have maintained a provocative and transgressive presence in the British and international art scene for almost forty years, dealing with fundamental themes, from national stereotypes and taboos to the artists’ sexuality and bodily functions.
Tate Director of Collections, Jan Debbaut, who will curate a major exhibition of the artists’ work at Tate Modern in 2007, said: ‘Gilbert and George are of continuing importance, and Fates is a key new work which we are delighted to acquire. We are grateful to the artists and their representatives for giving us the opportunity to add one of the most significant works in their Venice show to the Tate Collection. Contemporary works of this calibre are exactly the kind we seek to acquire and, through our plans for Building the Tate Collection, we will continue to strengthen our contemporary holdings of such major artists’.