Summary

Named is one of a group of sixteen works entitled New Horny Pictures which were exhibited at White Cube ², London in 2001. Based on advertisements placed in magazines by male prostitutes, the works comprise large grids of photographic panels each bearing the text of the sex advertisement with its heading. In a work entitled Geography each advertisement is headed with a location: Manchester, New Essex, City of London, Bedfordshire. Another work in the group, I Am..., is so titled because the advertisements lead with a description of each individual. In Named, the advertiser’s name heads the descriptive text. Although these works are called ‘pictures’, they are text portraits and picture literally only the artists. Photographs of Gilbert and George, together or apart, are positioned symmetrically in the grids. Named is the largest of the works and comprises ninety square panels mounted in abutting narrow black frames. On each yellow panel a numbered circular window contains the advertisement printed in black on white with a narrow red border on either side. A photograph of the artists, dressed in their trademark suits and leaning against each other as though in support, is superimposed over the eight central panels.

Gilbert and George had been collecting potential material for some time before they were inspired to make the New Horny Pictures by an image of a cemetery and head. They were struck with the similarity between the contents of a sexual advertisement and an epitaph on a tombstone, commenting of their pictures:

They look like cemeteries or they look like war memorials ... In time all of the people in the New Horny Pictures will be dead and then they will have a memorial, that’s the whole point of it. That they will live on because the magazine will have vanished. We like this idea because everybody was equal ... from all over the world ... also because it’s the sort of material that people at large tend to ignore ... People looking for people.

(Quoted in A Arte de Gilbert & George, [p.28].)

From their early days studying sculpture at St Martin’s School of Art (1967-9), where they met and decided they would work collaboratively, Gilbert and George aimed to take their work outside of the art context and into the public domain. Without a studio and therefore the space to generate three-dimensional work, they discovered that they and their living processes – both in relation to the external world and in their inner life – were the subject of their art. They dispensed with the sculptural object per se and became living sculptures in themselves, making live performances, videos, drawings photographic montages which quickly developed into their signature format of large-scale brightly coloured photographic grids.

Gilbert and George had, from the beginning, felt different and apart – outsiders who drew their strength from being together, who were not so alone because they were a couple. They therefore based their practice on establishing an identity which challenged taboos but at the same time claimed a kind of brotherhood with everyman. In the Magazine Sculpture, The Shit and The Cunt, published in 1970, Gilbert and George overtly identified themselves with abjection. They afterwards described this as an attempt to pre-empt criticism of themselves and their art. The thread was taken up again in the 1990s with such groups of works as The Naked Shit Pictures (1994, see Tate T07493), The Fundamental Pictures (1996) and The Rudimentary Pictures (1998), in which they are pictured alongside giant faeces and microscope enlargements of traditionally abject bodily fluids – urine, semen, tears and blood. The New Horny Pictures continue this theme, tying it up with works of the 1980s which featured young men alongside the artists. Gilbert and George have explained:

We are always trying to sort out the elements which are most important: Sex, Money, Race and Religion. And we realize there is nothing apart from that ... Sex as subject in art is in some ways forbidden. The corner porn shop has in some ways more freedom because the artist has to justify it morally. We believe that the power of living is sex. There is nothing else.

(Quoted in Gilbert & George: An Exhibition, pp.32 and 42-3)



Further reading:
A Arte de Gilbert & George, exhibition catalogue, Centro Cultural de Belem, Lisbon 2002, [p. 28] and [pp.144-7], reproduced [pp.146-7] in colour
Gilbert & George: An Exhibition, exhibition catalogue, Kunsthaus Bregenz 2002, reproduced front and back covers, pp.104 and 108-9 in color
Gilbert & George: New Horny Pictures, exhibition catalogue, White Cube², London 2001, reproduced [pp.4-5] in colour

Elizabeth Manchester
February 2005