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Many of Gilbert & George’s pictures from the 1980s include a cast of young men. Having installed special lighting equipment in their studio, they were able to capture images of the youths with a greater degree of control. ‘We devoted all our power to making them totally beautiful’, they have said. In pictures such as Existers, the youths are arranged into powerful compositions, living embodiments of potency and strength. Such depictions of young men aroused considerable hostility among critics, who accused Gilbert & George of being exploitative, and wrongly described the youths as rent boys or East End thugs.

February 2010