Gilbert and George at White Cube

Published on Culture 24

Jack Freak Pictures, Gilbert and George, White Cube, London, until August 22 2009

Two years ago Gilbert and George were accorded the ultimate mark of respect from the art establishment in Britain. The highlights from their lifetime’s work were put on display in the most extensive retrospective show ever to be staged at Tate Modern.

You might expect to find the pair sipping champagne and scanning the Queen’s Birthday Honours list, but instead their response has been to make their largest and possibly most subversive series of pictures to date.

So in new work Prize the two artists have their tongues out. There are shields and crests painfully stuck on their flesh. Another piece called Bleeding Medals shows them festooned with Union Jacks surrounded by sporting medals for the most piffling of achievements.

The national flag features heavily in the show, often violently treated with image manipulation software. No less violent is the way that technology has been used to twist and fracture the self-portraits for which Gilbert and George have become famous.

At times they smash two icons with one stone. In Jackanapes they morph themselves into red, white and blue cartoon shapes with monochrome nipples. Nettle Dance has the flag emblazoned across their trademark suits. The pair hop around in front of a nettle bush, clearly stung by something.

Elsewhere they attack the religious aspects of patriotism. Christian England features a crucifixion in which Christ sports a Union Jack loincloth and halo. In Stuff Religion the two raise their limbs like puppets. It’s as if they’ve been pressed into the service of church and state.

Meanwhile Gilbert and George continue to make work that shares many features with ecclesiastical stained glass. Bright colours predominate. Each new work has been printed on a series of panels framed with dark metal “leading”. Digital trickery has allowed them make kaleidoscopic rose windows out of pieces such as Homey and Sap.

Other diverse themes are worked into the exhibition, including sexuality, Islam and London’s East End. But despite spanning two venues on opposite sides of the city it all hangs together very nicely – in fact few shows will offer the viewer such a coherent political statement as the Jack Freak Pictures.

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