Private View with the artists. Tuesday 3 October, 6pm-8pm
Comprising twenty-three monumental, multi-panel pieces, The General Jungle or Carrying on Sculpting is one of the earliest manifestations of Gilbert & George’s ‘Art for All’ philosophy, reinforcing their reputation as ‘living sculptures’ — an identity and belief maintained by the artists since they met at St Martin’s School of Art, London, fifty years ago this September.
The General Jungle or Carrying on Sculpting features early charcoal-on-paper ‘sculptures’ by the renowned artist duo. This is the first exhibition in the United Kingdom to feature this seminal body of work, first presented at the Sonnabend Gallery, New York, in 1971, as the atmospheric backdrop to one of their most celebrated works, The Singing Sculpture.
‘We are thrilled to bring this important work to the United Kingdom, where the sculptures were made but have never before been exhibited,’ said Lock Kresler, Senior Director of Lévy Gorvy London. ‘This exhibition features loans from MAXXI, Rome and The Sonnabend Collection Foundation, The Estate of Nina Sundell, and Antonio Homem, as well as other important lenders. We are especially thankful to these partners, as well as to Gilbert & George, who have been instrumental in making this reunion possible.’
Produced in the late summer of 1971, the sheets describe a day in the life of the artists (from ‘THE COLD MORNING LIGHT’, through to ‘THE CHILL OF EVENING’), as they walk through the leafy parks of London, ruminating on the human condition. Their thoughts range from the philosophical to the mundane, and hem each hanging, to read (in their own words) like ‘huge letters’, addressed with love—and humour—to the viewer. Contrary to the Minimal and Conceptual concerns dominant in art schools at the time, Gilbert & George devoted themselves to emotions rather than intellect, replacing elitist attitudes and practices towards art-making with their own Romantic, figurative idiom; by pairing inner and outer landscapes in this way, they sought to make their art accessible to the masses. As such, The General Jungle reads as a fragmentary anti-poem, or manifesto, in which their democratic intentions are outlined (without irony) in bold: ‘WE STEP INTO THE RESPONSIBILITY SUITS OF OUR ART’. This sense of duty is further emphasised in the latter part of the work’s title— Carrying on Sculpting—which concurrently alludes to the cult British film series Carry On; a knowing pop reference, to again engage the everyman, not just the elite.
The excerpts of text originate from their own ‘postal sculpture’, A Day in the Life of George & Gilbert, the sculptors (1971), penned by the artists in Liverpool Street station and distributed by Konrad Fischer Galerie, Düsseldorf, that same year. The imagery derives from a series of photographs taken in and around Regent’s Park, Colchester, and Kew Gardens—several of which were used to form the basis of their Nature Pieces, from 1971. Indeed, to make the General Jungle works, the artists projected these slides onto sheets of paper attached to the wall and copied them in charcoal, before washing them with potash to give them an aged, antiquarian appearance. As such, they mimic the cartoon drawings traced for Italian frescoes or tapestries from Flanders, stamped with a red seal in the lower right corner to grant each the authority of an ancient manuscript or deed: a collective ‘Magna Carta of Thoughts’, according to their own description. In content, they parody the rich pastoral tradition of English landscape painting practiced by artists such as Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough in the eighteenth century, whilst also evoking a Biblical glimpse of Eden, as Gilbert & George amble through the gardens of London, not unlike Adam and Eve.
In total, Gilbert & George produced thirteen groups of Charcoal on Paper Sculptures between 1970 and 1974, with The General Jungle forming cycle number six. Critically, the panels were not intended to be considered for their aesthetic qualities as drawings, but were sculptures, to be interacted with—a means of communicating with the world. Following Ileana Sonnabend’s invitation to present The Singing Sculpture at her 420 West Broadway gallery in 1971, the artists wished to leave something behind that would extend beyond their physical presence and endure after the event; The General Jungle was created as an immersive response to this—a unique union of art and life, that would continue to sing in their absence (to great acclaim). Visitors to Lévy Gorvy will be surrounded by all twenty-three sculptures, and invited to consider ‘THE TOTAL MYSTERY OF EACH MAN-LAYED-BRICK’, in this remarkable representation.
The General Jungle has previously been shown in historic presentations at the Sonnabend Gallery, New York, in 1971 and 1991; the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY, in 1976; the CAPC Musée d’art contemporain de Bordeaux, in 1986; the Museum für Moderne Kunst (MMK), Frankfurt, in 2000; and the Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo (MAXXI), Rome, in 2005.
In conjunction with the exhibition, Lévy Gorvy will publish a fully illustrated catalogue, featuring a newly commissioned essay by Michael Bracewell based on a recent interview with the artists, an original poem by Kostas Anagnopoulos, newspaper reviews from the inaugural exhibition of The General Jungle at the Sonnabend Gallery in 1971, and a facsimile of the postal sculpture A Day in the Life of George & Gilbert, the sculptors (1971).
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