Lot 21
  • 21

Gilbert & George

400,000 - 600,000 GBP
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  • Gilbert & George
  • The Office
  • signed
  • hand-dyed gelatin silver prints in artist's frames, in 9 parts
  • each: 50.8 by 40.6 cm. 20 by 16 in.
  • overall: 152.4 by 122.4 cm. 60 by 48 in.
  • Executed in 1978.


White Cube, London

Acquired from the above by the present owner


Tokyo, Modern Art Agency, New Photo-Pieces, 1978


Exh. Cat., Bordeaux, CAPC Musée d'Art Contemporain de Bordeaux; Basel, Kunsthalle Basel; Brussels, Palais des Beaux Arts, Madrid, Palacio de Velázquez; Munich, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus; London, Hayward Gallery, Gilbert & George: The Complete Pictures 1971-1985, May 1986 - September 1987, p. 118, illustrated in colour

François Jonquet, Gilbert & George: Intimate Conversations with François Jonquet, London & New York 2004, p. 245, illustrated in colour

Rudi Fuchs, Gilbert and George: The Complete Pictures 1971-2005, Vol. I, London 2007, p. 294, illustrated (in installation at Modern Art Agency, Tokyo), p. 305, illustrated in colour

Inigo Philbrick and Hans Ulrich Obrist, Gilbert & George: Art Titles 1969-2010 in Alphabetical Order, Cologne 2011, pp. 20 and 76 (text)


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although the red is more vibrant in the original. Condition: Please refer to the department for a professional condition report.
"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

“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 cited in: Exh. Cat., London, Serpentine Gallery, Gilbert and George: Dirty Words Pictures, 2002, p. 15.

Created in 1978, The Office belongs to Gilbert & George’s final series of the 1970s – the 1978 Pictures. In keeping with their signature works of the decade, The Office maintains the minimalist grid of individually framed photographic prints executed in the powerful colour schema of red, black, and white. In the centre top and bottom, the artists' faces loom large in the composition, sandwiched between a dark strip depicting an office block at night and a red strip containing a stark silhouette of a bare tree branch. For its distinctive minimalist grid format, and for its direct conflation of the artists’ own images with images of their stark East London environs, this piece is both archetypal of the series and the decade.

Consisting of only 21 works, the 1978 Pictures was the last series completed by Gilbert & George before they took a break to focus on preparations for their first major retrospective; an exhibition that toured the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Whitechapel Gallery in their adopted East London, and three other prestigious museums in Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. When the artists returned to work in the early 1980s, they did so in quite a different style, employing brighter, more varied colours, and a wider range of motifs. Thus, the 1978 Pictures should be viewed as bringing to a close the pinnacle achievements of the 1970s. Executed immediately after the critically acclaimed Dirty Words series (many of which are housed in important museum collections worldwide), the 1978 Pictures served as the final flourish of Gilbert & George’s 1970s – a period now universally acknowledged to be their most important decade of production.

In content, The Office can be considered a portrait of 1970s East London. Gilbert & George have always taken the area around their Fournier Street home as one of their primary subjects and motifs, with its societal juxtapositions, cultural complexity, and varied quotidian life providing endless inspiration ever since they first moved there in 1968. Although the Dirty Words pictures had adopted a more explicit and inflammatory tone, The Office and its accompanying works nonetheless capture the gritty reality of life around Spitalfields market. This London locale was one of the city’s socio-economic contradictions during the 1970s: although geographically situated on the doorstep of the world’s leading investment banks in the City of London, during the 1970s it was still a wholly dilapidated area of semi-derelict industrial buildings. These opposing forces are represented in the outermost panels of the present work: the faceless brutalism of the office block squares up to the lifeless winter branch that is starkly outlined against a red background.

At the heart of this work, however, are the artists themselves. They are at once totally immersed in the scene and entirely removed from it. They are the victims of the scene as much as they are its omnipotent controllers. In a manner entirely idiosyncratic of Gilbert & George, the artists are inextricable from their artwork. The Office shows these ‘living sculptures’ at the heart of their London habitat, in the midst of the environs from which they have gleaned so much inspiration.