If you haven’t seen the big Gilbert & George exhibit, run don’t walk down to the De Young in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. This may be the most fun art exhibit you see this decade.

Did say “fun”? Yes, I mean fun. Gilbert & George, that strange Anglo/Italian art duo, have been making their art since the Sixties under the premise that art should be accessible to everyone.

In their words:

“We want our art to speak across the barriers of knowledge directly to People about their Life and not about their knowledge of art. The 20th century has been cursed with an art that cannot be understood. The decadent artists stand for themselves and their chosen few, laughing at and dismissing the normal outsider. We say that puzzling, obscure and form-obsessed art is decadent and a cruel denial of the Life of People”.

To that end, they have inserted ordinary urban imagery and found pieces — including themselves — into every piece they do. Then they’ve rendered their images in boldly colored and outlined large panels, reminiscent of stained glass windows. And as an added touch, every piece is labeled with helpful titles that tell you exactly what the picture is about.


In one of their early pieces, they had just sold a piece of art for what, to them, seemed like a huge sum. What did they do with the money? They got drunk for nights on end at the pub. Then made a piece of art called “Gibson’s Makes Us Drunk”, including images of Gibson’s Gin, pub imagery and themselves in various states of inebriation. Since they call themselves “living sculpture” and claim their whole lives are art, they maintain that the drunken celebration was part of the consequences of Art, and therefore Art in itself. I’ll tell you, a bender has never been so beautifully rendered!

But I’m not giving you any idea how oddly beautiful so much of their work is. And thought provoking. Even the pictures where they include large representations of beautifully stylized pieces of poo. (Such as the one piece with an artfully coiled piece of poo on a globe, entitled “Shit World”. Or the piece featuring naked G&G standing on a beautifully stylized mound of poo, called “In the Shit”. I have to emphasize, the images are not shocking so much as quite beautiful. As G&G say, “you can’t have life without poo, so poo becomes a kind of art in and of itself.”) Georgia O’Keefe famously said that most people dismiss flowers as small and insignificant, so she had to paint them very large so that people would really look at them. Gilbert & George have done for poo what O’Keefe did for jimson weed. You’ll laugh, but you’ll also think. And you’ll never find poo so beautifully rendered.

Now I’m making it all sound frivolous and, surprisingly, it’s not. In one particularly effective piece, in response to the recent horrific tube station bombings in London, G&G make a stained glass montage of dozens of headlines and teasers from those newspaper easels that you see around London with their unique lettering. Rendered in a blood red, and juxtaposed with Gilbert & George’s horrified faces, it says all you need to know about the bombing and what it did to London.

So there I was, a few days after I sliced my Achilles Tendon, limping through the exhibit with a huge bulky bandage on my leg. Since I’ve only been able to take sponge baths to preserve the stitches, my hair was a mass of cowlicks and swirls. I was in that bubble you enter when you wear those museum audio guide headphones. And I was laughing hysterically at the art and especially at the commentary by Gilbert & George themselves. If old G&G had been making art from my image, it would have been called “Crazed Art Patron”.

Suddenly I was approached by an earnest young man who identified himself as “Shimon” and presented me with his De Young Visiting Artist press pass and credentials.

“I’m working on an art installation that involves showing patrons reacting to artwork in the De Young’s permanent collection. We want to match up various patrons with specific pieces of art that speak to them. We’ll put both on a large rotating platform and video them with a light show in the background. I’d really like you to be involved as you seem to have a unique connection with the art here.” Then he took a few test shots and informed me that his assistants would be contacting me. When questioned, Shimon wouldn’t tell me why he’d picked me, but he did say he was going to want me to “dress the same”. Hmmmm.

How can I resist an offer like that? I’ll join Gilbert & George as a living sculpture. See G & G are right! Your life can be art. Just hope I’m not photographed observing a large pile of poo.

PS — Catch Gilbert & George as “singing sculptures in “Bend It”. My theory on this? They make themselves ridiculous and silly in order to break down the barrier between ordinary person and artist. If you don’t approach them as “artistes” but as “those crazy guys”, you may be more open to looking at their art without feeling you have to have reverence for every aspect of it.

On a less silly note, here are Gilbert and George talking with their gallery manager about the retrospective and their theories of Art. (This clip also gives you a bit of preview of some of the pieces.) The show travels to Milwaukee and Brooklyn later in the year. See it!

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