Gilbert & George
- Gilbert & George
- The Basket
- signed, titled and dated 1978
nine hand-dyed gelatin silver prints in original artists' frames
- each: 60.5 by 50.3cm.; 23 ¾ by 19 ¾ in.
- overall: 181 by 151cm.; 71 by 59in.
Edward and Marjorie Leshaw, New York (acquired directly from the above in 1984)
Sale: Sotheby's, New York, Contemporary Art, 13 May 2004, Lot 381
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
Rudi Fuchs, Gilbert & George: The Complete Pictures 1971-2005, London 2007, Vol. I, p. 308, illustrated in colour
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The Basket, 1978, dates from Gilbert & George's final series of the 1970s, before they took a break from their hitherto relentless image making to focus on preparing for the first retrospective of their work. Standing at the watershed of two distinct decades and two distinct phases in their oeuvre, the present work offers insight into their groundbreaking practice to date and the shape of things to come. Unlike previous bodies of work which were classified by number within an overarching series title, like Dead Boards No. 13, also offered here, in the 1978 photo-sculptures each work is individualised by title within an anonymous series.
Unlike the interior spaces of the Dead Boards series, here the artists step out into the outside world, the cityscape that surrounds their Fournier Street home. The tenor is less aggressive here than in the Dirty Words series which came immediately prior, but the series nonetheless reflects the often gritty reality of life in their East London neighbourhood. The area close to Spitalfields Market has long been one of London's many contradictions: on the fringes of the capital's wealth centre, where the world's leading investment banks have long made their home, it was nonetheless an impoverished area of mostly derelict an dilapidated industrial buildings, where successive waves of migrants from the Maltese to the Bangladeshis have transformed the character of the area. It is this rich cultural complexity which fascinates the artists and which has been their sole focus, despite their enormous international success which has led them to travel across the globe.
Taking their cameras onto the streets, Gilbert & George used telephoto lenses to capture the cohabitants in their environment. For the first time, they admit other protagonists into their work. The role-call comprises a number of different character types, from well-heeled businessmen arriving at their offices to housepainters, taxi drivers, vagabonds, migrants and inebriated alcoholics. In the present work, a labourer in overalls loads a basket in an unremarkable quotidian scene, framed on either side by red panels depicting the gnarled branches of a tree, which run through the series like a leitmotif. Like a reprieve of the natural environment that was such a prevalent aspect of their early drawings on paper and their first photo-sculptures, the Nature Photo-pieces of 1971, these branches remind us of the world beyond the metropolis. From above, the two artists, now removed from the narrative of their composition, look down like omniscient gods, be they benign protectors of mankind or the gleeful puppeteers orchestrating man's fateful plight.
Unlike the earlier series which, when displayed, maintain a gap between each panel, in the later 1970s works each panel abuts the next so that the dividing grid is less pronounced. As a result, images flow more easily across the panels, allowing the artists to exploit larger images across adjoining panels, so that the works started to more closely approximate stained-glass windows. Coupled with developments in photographic printing processes, larger studio space and more sophisticated equipment, this allowed the artists to start thinking and working on a massive scale which reached its apogee in the monumental works of the 1980s. Seen for the first time here, the early exploratory stages of these advances are contained within a work which has all the charm and potency of the vintage works of the 1970s. Quintessentially Gilbert & George, it shows the 'living sculptures' at home in their London habitat.