Gilbert & George - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale London Thursday, October 14, 2021 | Phillips

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  • 'Inside the body, outside the body. Everything is part of our material.' —Gilbert & George

    The body and its capacity to represent human experience has preoccupied the practice of Gilbert & George throughout their 50‐year artistic partnership. Blood and Piss, 1996, presents the human body on two distinct scales. The naked figures of the artists are centred in front of large, richly hued red and yellow forms. While distinctly biological in nature, it is only when the title is observed in the right‐hand corner of the image that the forms are revealed to be enlarged microscopic photographs of bodily fluids. The composition of the molecular forms echoes the intimate positioning of the duo’s naked bodies. These elements meet in the central column of panels to convey a continuity between the material inside and outside of the body. 

    Blood and Piss belongs to a series created in the 1990s titled The Fundamental Pictures. Comprised of 39 works, the series explores the universality of human experience through bodily excretions that are understood to be simultaneously taboo and a necessary part of life. Gilbert & George maintain that ‘without these kinds of objects we wouldn’t be able to survive to live. Why shouldn’t we involve this kind of material in our art? It’s the most important part of living’.i Experimentation with microscopic photography is introduced to the duo’s distinctive technique of expanding photographic images across a rectangular grid of ordered panels. Placing samples of blood and urine under a microscope, the pair were struck by the ‘enormous activity inside’ the droplets that formed into the shape of guns, flowers, and hockey sticks.ii 

    Enlarged to a monumental scale, the patterns emergent in the photographed samples are emphasised by the hand‐colouring of the prints. The saturated planes of colour and bold black lines traced around the coupled figures and the parameters of the fifteen panels recall the stained‐glass windows of Gothic cathedrals. The likeness is strengthened by the cruciform crystal patterns formed within the urine sample. Juxtaposition of the religious imagery of the stained‐glass with the depiction of taboo bodily fluids provocatively evokes a tension between the spiritual and the profane that runs as a theme through the artists’ oeuvre. Blood and Piss encapsulates Gilbert & George’s deeply personal approach to their artistic practice. The depiction of their naked bodies is an extension of their self‐presentation as ‘living sculptures’, yet the body is also broken down to a molecular level to assert the universality of the bodily experiences they represent: ‘we are all the same, even us as human beings we are just like a piece of matter’.iii 

     i Gilbert & George, quoted in Robert Violette with Hans Ulrich Obrist, eds., The Words of Gilbert & George: with portraits of the artists from 1968 to 1997, New York, 1997, p. 301
    ii Ibid, p. 299
    iii Ibid, p. 296

    • Provenance

      Sonnabend Gallery, New York
      Private Collection, New York
      Christie's, London, 14 February 2013, lot 327
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, Sonnabend Gallery and Lehmann Maupin, Gilbert & George: The Fundamental Pictures, 3 May - 28 June 1997, n.p. (illustrated)
      Stockholm, Magasin III, Gilbert & George, 6 September 1997 - 25 January 1998, p. 10 (illustrated, p. 14)
      Belfast, Ormeau Baths Gallery, Gilbert & George: Pictures 1991-1997, 1999
      Lisbon, Fundação Centro Cultural de Belém, The Art of Gilbert & George, 11 January - 15 April 2002, n.p. (illustrated)

    • Literature

      Rudi Fuchs ed., Gilbert & George: The Complete Pictures 1971 - 2005, Volume 2 1988-2005, London, 2007, p. 1235 (illustrated, pp. 659, 677, 861, 868)


Blood and Piss

signed, titled and dated 'BLOOD AND PISS Gilbert and George 1996' lower right
hand-dyed gelatin silver print, in artist's frame, in 15 parts
each 63.5 x 75.5 cm (25 x 29 3/4 in.)
overall 190 x 377 cm (74 3/4 x 148 3/8 in.)

Executed in 1996.

Full Cataloguing

£70,000 - 90,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £88,200

Contact Specialist

Tamila Kerimova
Specialist, Director, Head of Day Sale

20th Century & Contemporary Art

+44 20 7318 4065
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

London Auction 14 October 2021