Existential Hell

Article excerpt

Byline: NICK HACKWORTH

EXHIBITION Gilbert & George Sonofagod Pictures: Was Jesus Heterosexual?

Nick Hackworth White Cube, N1 .....

"JESUS says forgive yourself/God loves fucking! Enjoy." It is this typically cheap shot, emblazoned across the largest new piece, provocatively titled Was Jesus Heterosexual?, that just about succeeds in hauling Gilbert & George's latest exhibition out of a mire of fatal tedium and on to the shores of the mildly distracting.

The dapper duo have spent the past four decades clinging onto the fame that they first courted and achieved in the Sixties when they baffled the art world by becoming living, singing and then drinking sculptures; they first posed selfconsciously at art events, silently, then more vocally and finally more drunkenly. To be fair, they've played their part perfectly, not to say pathologically. The superficially mild-mannered pair, Gilbert from Italy, George from Devon, have been inseparable since their student days at St Martins and have, in an extended piece of theatricality, lived up to their carefully crafted personas of genteel, queer gentlemen who belie their appearance by dropping an outrageous joke or fart every once in a while.

The new show is as familiar as every Gilbert & George show since the late Seventies. Large, garishly coloured, collaged photo works, here loosely themed on religion, feature an array of bold taboo and iconic imagery, crucifixes, charms and amulets. But as always the assorted visual flotsam and jetsam is just a prop for the grand theme of the Gilbert & George project, which is, of course, Gilbert & George.

Though increasingly vapid and self-serving, their wilful, collective myopia succeeds in sounding a few poignant and insightful notes. The flat, eye-jarringly coloured works present religious paraphernalia in a variety of ways, sometimes large and close up, sometimes mangled into an almost abstract fusion, but in such a way that the supposedly powerful icons are drained of meaning. …