The Man

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  • Provenance

    Art Agency Co. Ltd., Tokyo
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Bordeaux, CAPC musée d'art contemporain de Bordeaux; 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. 119 (illustrated)

  • Literature

    Rudi Fuchs, ed., Gilbert and George: The Complete Pictures 1971-2005, vol. I, London, 2007, p. 302 (illustrated)
    Inigo Philbrick and Hans Ulrich Obrist, Gilbert & George: Art Titles 1969-2010 In Alphabetical Order, Cologne, 2011, p. 20

  • Catalogue Essay

    A paradigmatic example of Gilbert & George’s witty multi-disciplinary compositions, The Man, 1978, displays the artistic duo’s exploration of photography which has cemented their pioneering reputation as leading figures in British art. Tripartite in composition, the picture is comprised of nine photographs, originating from their series, The 1978 Pictures. The series marked a significant conclusion to the decade and immediately preceded the pair’s departure from a red, black and white colour palette. Commenting on this colour selection, George stated: ‘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 Gilbert and George: Dirty Words Pictures, exh. cat., Serpentine Gallery, London, 2002, p. 15). A year later, in 1979, the artists paused to prepare for their first major retrospective which visited the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Whitechapel Gallery in their East London base, and three other prestigious museums in Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. Upon their return to London in the early 1980s, they employed a new range of colours and motifs, breaking from their iconic palette.

    Immediately following the highly celebrated Dirty Words series of 1977, the titles of The 1978 Pictures - including The Basket, The Office and The Gardener alongside The Man - are almost commonplace in comparison to the profanity evident in their earlier series. Carter Radcliffe writes ‘Violence ebbs away, giving way to an elegiac aftermath’ (‘Gilbert & George: The Fabric of Their World’, in Gilbert & George: The Complete Pictures 1971-1985, exh. cat., CAPC Musée d’Art Contemperain de Bordeaux, 1986, p. 27). In the present work, the faces of the artists and a solitary figure – symbolic of the work’s title – are sandwiched between the gnarled and bare branches which appear in two thirds of the 1978 series. The closely cropped faces are vertically stacked above the stooped, elderly man who is seated in profile on a bench. This heavily shadowed figure is seemingly entrapped in his individual frame, suggesting that he is unable to straighten his bent stature, which echoes the spindled branches. The positioning of the bench against grey grassland contributes further to the overall impression of an image completely and intentionally removed from the context of its creation.

    Unlike other examples from The 1978 Pictures and Dirty Words series, The Man makes no explicit reference to the East End of London or Fournier Street, which had been the artists’ home since 1968. In other works from the series, the characters, buildings, streets and graffiti are often adopted as motifs and firmly place the pictures in the context of the 1970s pre-Thatcher era. The Man’s detachment from a specific urban environment allows the viewer the opportunity to project their own experiences and cultural connotations upon the work. As evident in the present work, Gilbert & George blur the lines of reality and art in their aesthetically ambiguous microcosms, traversing between our collective memory and individual subjective experience. Commanding a sense of isolation, solitude and decay, the present work is deeply evocative in its conjuring of societal dislocation.

    Often featuring themselves in their own practice, the present work can be seen as a continued dialogue with Gilbert & George’s infamous 1969 The Singing Sculpture performance. The physical presence of the artists in their art is a key trope and particularly consistent in their work until 1978. They described themselves as ‘living sculptures’, a phrase borrowed from their examination of performance art. In the case of The Man and others in the series, the artists’ cropped faces loom over the figure below. Deliberately, the object of their gaze is unclear and their expression is equally indecipherable. ‘Maybe they look down…as at fallen nature or an allegory of the city. But they could be staring into darkness, as into their previous lives…We cannot know nor do we need to know’ (‘Gilbert & George: The Fabric of Their World’, in Gilbert & George: The Complete Pictures 1971-1985, exh. cat., CAPC Musée d’Art Contemperain de Bordeaux, 1986, pp. 27-28). With the eerie combination of branches, figure and faces, The Man arguably recalls a Grimm fairy-tale with its uncanny and ambiguous narrative. Similarly invoking the socio-economic situation of 1970s Britain, the present work provides a biting commentary on masculinity as well as examining the concept of performance in gender roles. Progressive in both concept and realisation, The Man from Gilbert & George’s lynchpin series is exemplary of the duo’s impressive impact on contemporary British art.


Property from an Important Asian Collector

The Man

signed, titled and dated 'Gilbert and George "THE MAN" 1978' lower right; each further consecutively signed and numbered '"THE MAN" 1-9' on the reverse
gelatin silver prints with hand colouring, in artists' frames, in 9 parts
each 50 x 40 cm (19 5/8 x 15 3/4 in.)
overall 150 x 120 cm (59 x 47 1/4 in.)

Executed in 1978.

£300,000 - 500,000 ‡ ♠

sold for £321,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 8 March 2018