Lot 3
  • 3

Gilbert & George

700,000 - 900,000 GBP
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  • Gilbert & George
  • Bummed
  • signed, titled and dated 1977; each titled and numbered on the backing board 
  • hand-dyed gelatin silver prints in artists' frames, in 25 parts 
  • each: 71 by 51cm.; 24 by 20in.
  • overall: 355 by 255cm.; 120 by 100in.


Collection of the artists

Private Collection, Germany

Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London 

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 2000


London, Serpentine Gallery, Dirty Words Pictures, 2002, p. 40, illustrated in colour


Carter Ratcliff, Gilbert and George: The Complete Pictures 1971-85, London 1986, p. 113, illustrated in colour

Rudi Fuchs, Gilbert and George: The Complete Pictures 1971-2005, Vol. I, London 2007, p. 271, illustrated in colour


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate. Condition: This work is in very good condition. There are a few superficial scratches to the Perspex glazing in places. Very close inspection reveals a few unobtrusive, pin-head sized depressions to prints 2, 8, 13 and 14. Extremely close inspection reveals a short rub mark to the centre of the nose of print 8, minor skinning towards the top of print 2, a spot of media accretion to the centre of the top edge of print 10 and an indentation which has broken the surface to the centre left edge of print 15.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Marking a pivotal and transformative moment in the career of Gilbert and George, Bummed is a monumental work, coursing three metres in height, from the artists’ definitive Dirty Words Pictures series. Each fastidiously apportioned in the artists’ signature manner into sleek minimalist grids, the Dirty Words Pictures are a tour de force of Gilbert and George’s facture, indeed, many works from the series are held in prestigious musum collections such Cunt Scum in Tate, London; Angry in Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo; Are You Angry Or Are You Boring? in Stedelijk Van Abbesmuseum, Eindhoven; Cunt in Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; Fuck in Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg; Queer in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam; Smash in Arts Council Collection, London and Suck in San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Remarkable for its intensity of vision, this extraordinary body of work consolidates and advances the compositional grammar wrought by the artists’ preceding piece, Red Morning, to create the cornerstone of their inimitable style – a style that has influenced a whole generation of artists. Emblazoned across the present work’s lintel is the word ‘Bummed’ scrawled in graffiti and split into six single frames: “by putting the word along the top, then something vertical down both sides, it looked like a door. A door of hell. We found much of the graffiti in doorways... We became interested to know what makes a person do that” (Gilbert and George quoted in: Carter Ratcliff, Gilbert and George: The Complete Pictures 1971-1985, London 1986, p. XXVII). These obscene proclamations assume a twofold role in this series becoming both the source and individual title of the Dirty Word Pictures.

Executed in 1977, a year of political and social unrest in England, Bummed points to the acceleration in social and cultural disaffection that was in part born of the anti-establishment punk rock movement that gained momentum in the same year. Stripping back romantic notions of the city, Bummed is infused with the vital sheen of contemporaneity, a timeless appeal that still thoroughly engages with our own modern day society. Speaking of this moment Gilbert recalls, “England was so run down in 1975, 1976, 1977, it was totally anarchic, with big piles of rubbish lying in Leicester Square, with super-flies and super-rats…” while George added, “Continental people saw England as a big pile of shit with a punk rock waving a swastika on top of it” (Gilbert and George quoted in: Michael Bracewell, ‘Writing the Modern World’ in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Serpentine Gallery, Gilbert and George: Dirty Words Pictures, 2002, p. 15). The present work is flanked on each side by four black and white images that appear to depict an apocalyptic vision of a city overrun by an army in military dress laden with guns. Unlike most of the other works in this series whose photographs are drawn from the artists’ environs of the East End, these images depict Rhodesian Freedom Fighters who featured on a float at the Notting Hill Carnival protesting against their Prime Minister, Ian Smith.

Operating as a pictorial exclamation mark, six crimson photographs of the two artists punctuate the heart of the picture. Having introduced red into their oeuvre for the first time in 1974, the intense red inventions in the Dirty Word Pictures series come to evocatively accentuate the potency of the surrounding black and white images. As George elaborated, "We were looking for a more aggressive, more powerful image. Red has more strength than black. Black and white is powerful but red on top of it is even more so. It's louder" (George quoted in: Carter Ratcliff, 'Gilbert & George: The Fabric of Their World' in: Carter Ratcliff, op. cit., p. XXIII).

The overwhelming scope and ambition achieved in Bummed, and the Dirty Word Pictures as a wider whole, demonstrates a new level of compositional rigour that is self-consciously transgressive, cementing aesthetic order from the chaos and conflict the artists experienced around them. The regular grid structure, that was introduced in earnest in Cherry Blossom, 1974, has been tightened in the present work by eliminating the gaps between each component of the grid to give a more coherent, vital work that assumes a mural-like quality. The unifying architectonic structure of the grid takes on a dual function and intriguingly also serves to break up the pictorial field, highlighting Gilbert and George’s central preoccupation with the fractured nature of the city. In doing so, the notion of the city that Gilbert and George present in Bummed is not a real one, but a mental understanding of the city as a duality where the crowd is at once an anonymous throng and a mass of highly individualised figures. As the artists themselves have said “to walk the streets of London is to walk the streets of the world” (Gilbert and George quoted in: Lisa Corrin, ‘Are you angry or are you boring?’, in: op. cit., 2003, p. 31).