Gilbert & George - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, February 12, 2020 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Gilbert & George, 'CITY FAIRIES', Lot 18

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 13 February

  • Provenance

    Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in October 1997

  • Exhibited

    Aarhus Kunstmuseum, Gilbert & George: New Democratic Pictures, 6 September - 25 October 1992, no. 3, p. 44 (illustrated, p. 45)
    Galleria d'Arte Moderna di Bologna, Gilbert & George, 18 May - 8 September 1996, p. 223
    Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, Gilbert & George, 4 October 1997 - 4 January 1998, p. 430 (illustrated, pp. 220-221)
    London, Tate Modern; Munich, Haus der Kunst; Turin, Castello di Rivoli; San Francisco, de Young Museum; Milwaukee Art Museum; New York, Brooklyn Museum, Gilbert & George: Major
    , 15 February 2007 - 11 January 2009, pl. 143, p. 207 (illustrated, p. 132)

  • Literature

    François Jonquet, Gilbert & George: Intimate Conversations with François Jonquet, London, 2004, pp. 213-214
    Robin Dutt, Gilbert & George: Obsessions & Compulsions, London, 2004, p. 120 (illustrated)
    Rudi Fuchs, ed., Gilbert & George: The Complete Pictures 1971-2005, Volume 2: 1988-2005, London, 2007, p. 763 (illustrated, p. 766)

  • Catalogue Essay

    At once playful and sardonic, humorous and profane, CITY FAIRIES, 1991, is a paradigmatic example of Gilbert & George’s oeuvre, touching on themes of identity, freedom, and irreverence. Split in 18 colourful units, the work outlines a vast composition that is almost perfectly symmetrical, spanning bright purples, pinks, greens and yellows, and showing the two artists birthing one other through the mouth as winged, suited creatures, supported from beneath by a pair of exposed buttocks. At the core of the photographic construction – between the two artist’s standing bodies – lies an image of London's Liverpool Street Station, brimming with pacing financiers. This location, somewhat incongruous within the composition, takes on particular meaning in the context of CITY FAIRIES’ provenance. Indeed, acquiring the work in 1997, Robert Tibbles concurrently worked at UBS as a bond salesman – the offices of which were erected at the heart of the same London railway. A fervent admirer of large, brash contemporary art, the collector found it only fitting that the image would reference a distinct dimension of his own life; 'It felt like my work', he said (Robert Tibbles, in conversation with Cheyenne Westphal, 6 December 2019). Testament to the work’s importance within the artists’ oeuvre, CITY FAIRIES was exhibited on the occasion of multiple ‘one-man shows’ (the duo insists on the term), at the Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1998, and Tate Modern, London; Haus der Kunst, Munich; Castello di Rivoli, Turin; de Young Museum, San Francisco; Milwaukee Art Museum; and the Brooklyn Museum, New York, from 2007 to 2009.

    With its bright colours and bold subject matter, CITY FAIRIES sheds light on the visual and conceptual power of iconoclasm – a theme of paramount importance in Gilbert & George’s artistic output. Employing stained-glass windows and an eclectic colour palette, the work borrows from religious iconography, while at the same time challenging its numinous display through a use of highly graphic and disruptive images. Laying bare their bodies and aggrandising them to colossal proportions, the artistic duo pushes their imagery to new levels of rawness, confronting the viewer to anatomical parts traditionally only visible in situations of heightened intimacy. Providing further insight into the work's meaning, the artists have declared: ‘Fairies are traditionally little creatures that live at the bottom of your garden. They have wings like insects and lead an idyllic existence. In English, “fairy” is also an old-fashioned familiar way of saying homosexual. A derogatory word. In a way, we’re turning the whole thing around by calling ourselves “fairies” and totally standing by it’ (Gilbert & George, quoted in François Jonquet, Gilbert & George. Intimate Conversations with François Jonquet, London, 2004, pp. 213-14).

    Conducting themselves as living sculptures – ‘Our whole life is one big sculpture’, George once said – Gilbert & George have, throughout their multi-disciplinary practice, surpassed any kind of artistic categorisation or etiquette, instead straddling a variety of media such as performance, sculpture and photography (George, quoted in Carter Ratcliff, ‘Gilbert and George: The Fabric of their World’, Gilbert and George: The Complete Pictures 1971-1985, Stuttgart, 1996, p. 9). With its compelling size, history and subject matter, the photographic construction posits as an excellent example of their thematic output – both buoyant and acerbic, amusing and tormenting.

The Robert Tibbles Collection: Young British Artists & More



signed and dated '1991 Gilbert & George' lower centre; further titled 'CITY FAIRIES' lower right
mixed media, in artists' frames, in 18 parts
overall 253.7 x 426.8 cm (99 7/8 x 168 in.)
Executed in 1991.

£120,000 - 180,000 

Sold for £156,250

Contact Specialist

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099
[email protected]


Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4060
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 13 February 2020