One in two, and two in one. One in three, and three in one. What's all that about? The first describes the nature of the relationship between two artists, one called Gilbert and the other called George. Ever since the Sixties these two men have exist-ed as an indissoluble partnership of living and breathing sculpture. They have posed together, as motionlessly as possible. They have lived, slept and breathed together. They have looked uncannily similar because of the way they dress: in strangely dreary and impersonal grey suits of the kind that might once have seemed fetching (in the Forties, perhaps) in a Burton's window, on some particularly rigid - no, frigid - dummy. To add to the fun, one is tall and the other is relatively short - like More-cambe and Wise - and one is of Italian and the other of British extraction.
And one in three? One in three is to do with a slightly different kind of phenomenon: the Christian God. Remember the Sunday school story? God the Father is one, but, paradoxically, God is also a trinity of three quite separate entities: the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. The Son was the Father's special representative on earth, sent down to this unhallowed ground to suffer for the sins of the world. The Holy Ghost made itself most visible - or so we are told - at Pentecost. How can three be one? God alone knows the answer to that one.
This week, the three in one and the two in one have come together in a series of huge artworks at the White Cube gallery in London's Hoxton Square. Gilbert and George, like many other artists before them in recent years (we immediately think of Damien Hirst's The Bilotti Paintings, for example, recently shown at the Gagosian in Britannia Street, and now destined for some chapel on the outskirts of Rome, or of Chris Ofili's The Upper Room, now reconstituted at Tate Britain), have created a series of works that has at its centre some kind of madcap interrogation of the religious impulse, the impulse that exists inside of each one of us to set apart, to raise up, to make sacred. In order to show this off most effectively, you need to create a sacred space in which religious feelings can generate, quietly.
White Cube is becoming quite adept at creating shrine-like spaces. It did it at the last exhibition here, by the American artist Richard Phillips, in order to point up some violent contrast between the content of an artwork and the way it might be displayed. Now it is at it again: the gallery's lights are lowered, almost as far as possible before we are plunged into utter darkness, and each of the huge panels (20 in all are on display on the walls) is lit by a series of powerful spots - there are about 60 downstairs, and 20 in the upper room.
Once upon a time Gilbert and George were most concerned to show themselves as sculptures. That was the whole point of them. The performance artists were the art itself. The two things were inseparable. In recent years, they have moved on from that. Their own besuited images are still at the centre of their work (they are the grand orchestrators of their own ever more ambitious schemes), but the work itself has turned into something much more self- trumpetingly grandiose: large-scale social commentary. And in this series of huge, panelled units, all works of computer-manipulated photo-montage, and each one divided up into a series of perfectly regular grids so that they look like leaded windows from some cathedral of profanity, religious artefacts are the main targets of their scrutiny, and predominantly the central symbol of the Christian religion: the suffering Christ hanging from the Cross. It is perfectly evident that Gilbert and George - and this comes as no surprise - seem to regard Christianity in particular and religion in general as a load of old tosh, something that represses rather than enlightens or liberates.
The largest artwork in the gallery, and the one that faces us as we walk into the main downstairs space, makes that perfectly evident from the texts with which it's adorned. …