Whitechapel Gallery is currently hosting a major exhibition of work by Romanian-born twins Gert and Uwe Tobias, showcasing the brothers’ work and its abilities to challenge the distinctions between fine art and craft with their collaboratively created woodcuts, sculptures, collages and typewriter drawings. Their multi-genre works from 2008 to the present are organized into a site-specific installation for the gallery, and showcase their broad, nuanced skill set in a global context.
The identical twins, born in 1973, moved to Germany in 1985 to study in Braunschweig, and have since lived and worked in Cologne. The roots of their homeland, however, still permeate their style, a combination of communist era constructivism with European folklore and post-war German painting. This mix of influences is especially notable in their giant woodcuts and wall paintings, which often integrate folk art patterns and flair with a modernist sense of abstraction. Together, this combination of both abstraction and ornamentation produces a surreal, definitively unique visual language that stems from both their personal, ethnic and art historical roots.
Filled with figurative depiction, the brothers’ large-scale woodcuts are layered with meaning, and play with the often dark themes of European folk tales. Images of body parts or figures metamorphasizing into creatures or plants are depicted like a fairy tale stage set. Their interest in stage design is apparent throughout the works on display, as well as in their transformation of the gallery space. A site-specific wall design, and their signature exhibition poster wood-cut are both efforts by the artists “to create a parity between the exhibition spaces”. This approach is utilized through many of the artists’ gallery shows, creating unique works in each space before an exhibition to set each show apart as totally unique.
The grotesque nature of the twin’s collages carry over into their ceramic sculptures, also specially created for the installation. Made from mass produced crockery, these ordinary plates and vases are turned into expressionistic creations by the brother’s additions and manipulations. Their amorphous shapes are like a three dimensional version of the artists’ collages, with their visually enticing and disturbing abstract forms foregrounded.
Perhaps being twins is part of what makes this duo so successful in their melding of styles and references. Their ability to compliment each other’s ideas and practice is comparable to their mastery in finding a common ground in their diverse influences, the result being a wholly unique approach to contemporary art making. Their show is on view until June 14th.
Exhibition Site: [Whitechapel]
“Gert and Uwe Tobias, Whitechapel Gallery – exhibition review” [London Evening Standard]
“Twin engine: Gert and Uwe Tobias at Whitechapel Gallery, London” [Wallpaper]