To the unsuspecting onlooker, Gilbert and George appear to be just a couple of elderly gentlemen.  Kitted out in three-piece tweed suits, they could pass as two well-dressed grandparents.  Nothing strange or remarkable about them, you might think. 

Well, not quite.  These two genteel fellows have been living their entire lives as an artwork together for the past 50 years, along the way creating some of the most raucous, provocative and shocking art imaginable.  And the tweed suits?  They wear nothing else. Now, these venerable ‘enfants terribles’ are being honoured with a bumper retrospective at Kunsthalle Zurich, entitled THE GREAT EXHIBITION, 1971 – 2016.

The title of the exhibition is a small insight into the world of Gilbert and George.  They are artists who deliberately challenge the stereotypes of the art world and who thrive on pushing the boundaries of it, too (as well as sometimes taking giant leaps across that boundary and having a party on the other side).

Whilst their artwork is instantly recognisable with its graphic black outline, clashing colours and advertising aesthetic – what they make work about is much more varied.  They delve into death, hope, life, fear, sex, money, race and religion.  Conscious that these subjects are complex, and occasionally considered taboo, Gilbert and George’s work takes a direct and unflinching approach that can (and often does) shock the viewer.

But you must not simply write them off as mere shock artists (although that might be what they want):  Gilbert and George seek to “bring out the bigot from inside the liberal and conversely to bring out the liberal inside the bigot”.   They want to open eyes to the world around us, making us see it in all its joyous and disturbing glory.   Whilst that might not be what we want, it might well be what we need…

Gilbert and George: THE GREAT EXHIBITION 1971 – 2016 is on view at Kunsthalle Zurich from 22 February to 10 May 2020.

Artist and writer Matt Antoniak has been widely exhibited nationally and his work is held in private collections. In this column, he explores some of the most important art and culture topics for Discover Germany, Austria & Switzerland.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Discover Germany, Switzerland & Austria.

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