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Gilbert & George opens an art center in London

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Gilbert Prousch and George Passmore, better known as Gilbert & George, moved into their home just off Brick Lane in east London in 1968.

“It was a shithole, full of damaged people,” George says of the area. “We came here because it was cheap and we couldn’t afford better. But we stayed because it was romantic.

Today, 55 years after moving in, they have opened a permanent exhibition center that will be dedicated to their art. THE Gilbert & George Center, on Heneage Street, just off Brick Lane and right next to the Prince of Spitalfields pub, will open on April 1. It has been converted from a brewery dating from around 1820 and sits next to the Artists’ Home and Studio of many years, a restored Georgian house, on nearby Rue Fournier.

“It came very slowly, but also straight out of nowhere,” Gilbert says of the building’s formation. The center took almost ten years to build. In 2015 the museum trustees, which include the artists, acquired the building for around £5million. The center is a registered charity, established by the artists in 2017, and is jointly managed by the trustees. Construction work started in June 2020.

The center was designed by SIRS Architects to mimic the exterior designs of Gilbert and George’s restored Georgian home. It comprises three exhibition spaces on three levels, covering a total of 280 m², which will host a rotating program of new and historic works by the artists. There will be no admission fee for the majority of the program.

“It’s a place for us to show our life journey as artists,” says Gilbert. This journey continues. Gilbert tells The arts journal that the couple will hold a major exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, on London’s South Bank, probably in 2025.

“We’re just going to show 21st century pictures series. A very specific group of images that have never been shown here in the UK,” George says of the show.

“Just footage made over the past 23 years,” adds Gilbert. “Just from this century, and only from this century.”

The Hayward show is sure to draw crowds. Gilbert & George, gay men born during the Second World War and brought up in homes of modest means, have become two of the UK’s most distinctive and recognizable cultural figures. They have also become synonymous with a field now closely associated with the UK’s most progressive contemporary art.

Gilbert and George, Dance date2019 © The Gilbert & George Center

“When art dealers came to our studio to look at our work, in 1975, we would take them out for a curry,” says Gilbert. The Clifton curry house on Brick Lane was their favorite haunt – they visited every evening. “We would be the only white people in there,” Gilbert says. “It was an incredible atmosphere.”

Early in their career, Gilbert & George adopted the slogan “Art for All”. They were early pioneers of performance art, sometimes performing continuously for a day at a time. They also gained a reputation for being willing to exhibit in spaces far beyond the world of London’s established commercial galleries. But has the art world become less elitist and more inclusive over the course of their lives?

“More people know more about art than ever before in human history,” says George. “The artist has never been so privileged.”

“Now there are more artists, more collectors, more galleries,” says Gilbert. “Before, we talked about ‘art for all’. It was an innocent statement at the time. We believe that commercial galleries are limited, because they are for sale. We tried to go beyond that.

The center will only exhibit works by Gilbert & George. When asked if they could branch out to curate the works of other artists, Gilbert said, “We don’t want to compete with the Hayward or the Whitechapel. It would be too difficult.

Gilbert will turn 80 in September, while George has just turned 81. The center was therefore created to commemorate the artists’ contributions to contemporary British art. It will endure in their homage, even after their death.

Until then, Gilbert and George can be spotted, still, on their late-night stroll through the streets of Spitalfieds before dining together at Mangal 1, the Turkish restaurant in Arcola Street, just off Kingsland Road, where they have a permanently reserved table.

“We’ve been going to Mangal for 20 years,” says George. “We used to go to Mangal 2 but they installed a music system, so now we go to Mangal 1. Maybe one day we will go to Mangal Zero.”

What’s the best thing to order?

“The Ezme Salata, then the Patrician Salata, then the Pirzola lamb chops, they’re very good,” says Gilbert. “Trust us, you can’t go wrong.”

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