The Urethra Postcard Art of Gilbert George at White Cube

Posted on February 19, 2011

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We are the most disturbed people we have ever met”. This statement was carefully written, rewritten and signed by the artistic duo 13 times. Then the 13 postcards were arranged into a square with a single postcard in the middle, an arrangement they state symbolises the urethra and is a direct reference to Charles Webster Leadbeater, who incorporated the symbol into his signature. Leadbeater was a follower of Theosophy and an author on the occult; his career was also haunted by rumours of peadophilic crimes. This tickling of the line between provocative and shockingly inappropriate is typical of the pair’s work.

The majority of the postcards in the exhibition are not made by Gilbert & George; they are a collection of London’s touristic postcards and call cards, apparently collected from phone booths. Mesmerizing patterns formed by the composition of Union Jacks are juxtaposed with photos of a man’s tight backside and the curious advertisement:

“I’ll drag you round my posh flat by your nuts, you filthy vetch”.

The deliberate combination of these two points of focus: the garish side of tourism and the sex market, blend to form a bizarre view of contemporary London. White Cube claims that Gilbert & George describe “with utmost clarity, poignancy and intensity, the unifying experiences of being alive in the modern world”. While it is impossible to claim that tourism and sex are not a part of our modern consumerist society there is little here for the common person to relate to. Audiences at White Cube explore the postcard collection, squealing with shock and delight at the explicit call cards, however I suspect that Urethra Postcard Art will not remain long in their minds, after they emerge from the Gallery back into pristine St. James’s.

The exhibition at White Cube, Mason’s Yard closes on 19th February 2011.

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