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  • Provenance

    Robert Miller Gallery, New York

  • Exhibited

    Gilbert & George: China Exhibition, National Art Gallery, Peking, 3 September - 3 October 1993 to The Art Museum, Shanghai, 21 October - 11 November 1993
    Gilbert & George, Museo d'Arte Moderna, Lugano, 19 June - 21 August 1994

  • Literature

    Aperture, Gilbert & George: The Complete Pictures, 1971-2005, Volume II, p. 805
    Robert Miller Gallery, Gilbert and George, n.p.

  • Catalogue Essay

    The forty-year long career of the collaborative British duo Gilbert & George has been marked by their synchronized performance of an alternate hybrid self, challenging the moral codes embedded in social and cultural norms. First gaining recognition for their Singing Sculpture performances in 1969, the duo’s style evolved into creating oversized photographic grids whose monumental presence and strong graphics evoke the instantaneous punch of highway billboards. While the grids created until the late-1970s solely portrayed the artists, those created later incorporated other individuals—often men from marginalized backgrounds who reside in their East End neighborhood in London. The images are consistently rife with symbolism, be it in subject matter or color choices or as a combination of the two.

    The pair has often drawn controversy for incorporating imagery that had been traditionally relegated to pulp literature, porn, and underground zines. Their tactics have further spilled into their actual subjects—from nude men to drunks and bums, as well as their choice for titles, many times evoking a slur or an insult. However, the purpose is never to offend. Indeed, the duo aim to deplete the words and subject matter of the knee-jerk reactions they tend to illicit by way of heavy-handed exaggeration. Such was the case with their work Paki, 1978, in which the central column (in a three by three grid) was occupied by an image of a man of South-East Asian decent. The side columns were occupied by the duo, looking in. The title of the work drew the ire of many, claiming that it perpetuated the use of insensitive lingo. The duo, however, contended that the initial strong reaction of the public was reflective of the overinflated power attributed to words by an overly-conscious, overly politically-correct public.

    In the current lot, Tonguers, 1992, the duo once again incorporated a man from their East End neighborhood, but this time to a far more playful but equally charged effect. The extreme close-up on the young man lends him a faux-heroic air that pokes fun of the genre of portraiture. Moreover, the mane of shocking red hair and a sensuous red pout against a bright yellow face render him akin to Warhol’s Liz, a pastiche of sexuality and human idolatry. His red eyes infuse him with a psychedelic effect that speaks of the overall sense of artificiality and disconnect from reality. The duo, appearing at the bottom of the grid, are seen sticking their tongues out. By doing so, they present a literal re-enactment of the expression ‘tongue-in-cheek’, further reminding viewers of the jocular nature of their work

    The grid-format is of great significance. By framing each panel individually but presenting all four collectively, the duo emphasize the constructed nature of their work, and by extension, the socially constructed schema from which viewers draw to interpret their works. Furthermore, the grid acts as a fence—a barrier of sorts to prevent viewers from overly interpreting the work and imbuing it with more symbolism than it originally intended. Indeed, the portrait cleverly reveals much about the social and cultural norms that are drawn by viewers to interpret the work, successfully provoking a discussion on the power of art to challenge convention.

175

Tonguers

1992
Four hand-colored gelatin silver prints.
Each 33 1/4 x 28 in. (84.5 x 71.1 cm); 66 1/2 x 56 in (168.9 x 142.2 cm), overall.
Signed, dated in ink and printed title on the recto; each panel titled and sequentially numbered '1-4' in pencil on the reverse of the flush-mount.

Estimate
$80,000 - 120,000 

Sold for $98,500

Contact Specialist
Vanessa Kramer Hallett
Worldwide Head of Photographs
[email protected]
+ 1 212 940 1245

Photographs

4 April 2012
New York