Now through November 18, Lévy Gorvy’s London exhibition space is hosting The General Jungle or Carrying on Sculpting, a collection of seminal works by artist duo Gilbert & George. This show is comprised of 23 monumental, multi-panel pieces, one of the first manifestations of Gilbert & George’s ‘Art for All’ manifesto, and a landmark entry in their early collaborations, which began fifty years ago this month. This is the first exhibition in the United Kingdom to feature this body of work, first presented at the Sonnabend Gallery in New York in the early 1970’s.
Gilbert & George, The General Jungle or Carrying on Sculpting (Installation View)
These charcoal-on-paper ‘sculptures’ formed the background to one of the pair’s most celebrated works, The Singing Sculpture. For this performance, created while the two were still students, Gilbert & George covered their heads and hands in multi-colored metallic powders, stood on a table and sang along to the song “Underneath the Arches” by British comedy and musical duo, Flanagan and Allen, sometimes for a day at a time. The General Jungle series of large-scale drawings served as a backdrop for this performance, decorating the walls of the gallery.
The giant sheets contain a charcoal illustration of the two artists standing in or moving through a woodland scene, with a sentence or phrase printed in huge letters beneath. The passages range from the philosophical to the mundane, delivered with tenderness and humor. Indeed, at the time of this work’s first showing, Gilbert & George represented a countercurrent to the predominant trends of the time. Aligning themselves against the often sterile minimalist and conceptual trends of the time, the pair embraced humor and emotion, interior psychologies and pop culture tropes in tandem. Accessibility for the masses is reimagined as devotion and appreciation of the individual viewer. Each panel is described as a huge letter addressed (with love) to the viewer. If these works speak as giant love letters to the viewer, embodying the duo’s commitment to promoting the accessibility of art, they also contain a clear devotion to the city of London. The majority of the work is set in Regent’s Park, describing a typical day in the life of the artists, from the “cold morning light” to the “chill of evening.” London, the artists claim, feels to them like the “most democratic city in the world,” and this dedication to the city comes through unmistakably in The General Jungle.
Gilbert & George’s approach to art has always been anti-elitist, and seek to be relevant and legible beyond the confines of the art world. They work in a variety of media, but refer to all their works as pieces of sculpture. Shown here, their sculpture seems to continue its many manifestations, filling the space around them with buoyantly human after-effects.
— A. Corrigan
Exhibition Page [Lévy Gorvy]