Gilbert & George - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Friday, October 15, 2021 | Phillips

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  • 'Trust yourself when you look at Gilbert & George’s pictures. Give in to this parallel world unreservedly, if only in the spirit of experiment, and see what you will also learn in the process about yourself, stripped of pretense, in all the complicated, contradictory truth of what it is that makes you the person you are….By refusing to insist on its privileged status as art, the work of Gilbert & George frees us all, if we allow it, to take life as it is in all its messy and imperfect glory.' —Marco Livingstone

    Gilbert & George make an impact. Their famed gridded compositions formed from individually framed prints cannot be denied on the gallery wall—always striking and always monumental. The two men, Gilbert Proesch and George Passmore have produced ground-breaking works of art as a singular entity ever since they both attended the St. Martin’s School of Art in London in the late-1960s. By 1969 they had dropped their last names and became a fully collaborative unit. As George put it: ‘one person looks like a bloody silly artist. We always said that two persons removed self-doubt. We can never have self-doubt…Self-doubt is vanishing. As long as the other one always says yes—and we always say yes to each other. I think we share an enormous sense of purpose. I think that’s our greatest strength.’


    Gilbert & George, The Alcoholic, 1978, Art Institute of Chicago © 2021. The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY/ Scala, Florence

    While the trappings of punk took hold of London in the 1970s, Gilbert & George kept modest haircuts and wore tailored suits—a look they’ve maintained for decades. In the streets and in their art, the pair’s conservative dress serves as a sort of provocative gesture in contrast to modern art’s sartorial liberalism and exists in contrast to the sometimes shocking imagery the pair employs. As Gustav Flaubert said, ‘you should be regular and natural in your lifestyle, like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.’
    'It has to be aggressive in some way: we are provoking thought. We invented a new way of making pictures for ourselves that can speak very loudly and confrontationally. We are pressing buttons.' —Gilbert & GeorgeComposed of sixteen red, black, and white panels portraying the duo contrasted with an image taken from the streets of their East End apartment, Day, 1978 is an exquisite emblem of Gilbert & George’s highly sought-after work produced in the late-1970s. From their series titled 1978, which is comprised of only twenty-one images, Day is one of the last works produced by Gilbert & George to feature a red, black, and white colour scheme before converting to the vibrant hues that characterize their proceeding oeuvre. On the red palate, which they began to employ in 1974, George reflected, ‘we were looking for a more aggressive, more powerful image. Red has more strength than black...It's louder.’ Beyond tonality, the 1978 series is also characterized by imagery portraying a gritty, graffiti laden, and economically unbalanced vision of late-1970s London. Resembling a Lewis Wickes Hine or Jacob Riis photograph, the upper, black and white image in the present work depicts four possibly transient men on the street, their backs to the camera concealing any identifying characteristics. Contrasted with this is the duo’s hallmark enlarged self-portrait below in red, the very opposite of anonymous, their faces and identities irrefutable. Satirists, polemicists and regal bad boys with a dress code, Gilbert & George’s work is rousing, as George has commented; ‘life is already a little bit different because our pictures exist.’


    Gilbert & George in conversation with Museum of Modern Art curator David Platzker


    Collector’s Digest


    •    With a career spanning over fifty years since first meeting at Central St Martin’s in 1967, Gilbert & George represent one the most instantly recognisable and influential artistic collaborations of recent decades.


    •    Day is one of only twenty-one works that make up the 1978 series, with one of its sister works, The Alcoholic, now held as part of The Art Institute of Chicago’s permanent collection.


    •    As well as their current touring retrospective, New Normal Pictures¸ Gilbert and George have also had prominent solo exhibitions at Casa Rusca Museum, Locarno (2020); Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris (2019); and the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2015). 

    • Provenance

      Art Agency Co., Ltd., Tokyo
      Christie's, New York, 14 May 2003, lot 59
      Private Collection, Europe
      Phillips, New York, 5 October 2014, lot 16
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Eindhoven, Municipal Van Abbemuseum; Düsseldorf, Kunsthalle; Bern, Kunsthalle; Paris, Centre National d'Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou; London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Gilbert and George 1968-1980, November 1980 - July 1981, p. 259 (illustrated)

    • Literature

      Rudi Fuchs, Gilbert & George. The Complete Pictures: Volume 1 1971-1988, London, 2007, p. 306 (illustrated)



signed 'Gilbert George' on the lower right image; printed with the title and date 'DAY 1978' on the lower right image; each titled and numbered '1-16' on the reverse of the flush-mount
gelatin silver prints with hand-colouring, in artist's frame, in 16 parts
each 50.3 x 40.4 cm (19 3/4 x 15 7/8 in.)
overall 202.3 x 162 cm (79 5/8 x 63 3/4 in.)

Executed in 1978.

Full Cataloguing

£350,000 - 450,000 ‡♠

Sold for £453,600

Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

+44 7391 402741


Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe

+44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 October 2021