Monday, 23 August 2010

Gilbert & George’s only major paintings go on display in Netherlands

Huge series of triptychs may be sold to Dutch museum

Gilbert & George, The Paintings (With Us in the Nature)

British artist duo Gilbert & George are likely to sell a monumental early work that has remained in their personal collection since it was made in 1971—a set of six triptychs that together total nearly 30 metres in length. The Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, the Netherlands, is to borrow The Paintings (With Us in the Nature)—the only major paintings ever made by the artists—and it hopes to then raise the money to buy the work.
Kröller-Müller director Evert van Straaten told us that he first met Gilbert & George in 1971, a few months after the work was completed and while it was on show at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. “I was puzzled and intrigued, because they called themselves ‘the living sculptors’. Painting was becoming seen as obsolete,” he said. The Paintings remained in Van Straaten’s mind for nearly 40 years, and last year he contacted Gilbert & George, asking if they still owned it.
The Paintings comprises six huge triptychs, each 2.3m by 6.8m. Based on photographs, the images were then crudely transferred to canvas, overpainted and splashed with green. The youthful figures of Gilbert & George appear in the landscapes of each of the central panels. Since 1972 the work has only been exhibited very occasionally, in Edinburgh (1986), Turin (1992), Porto (1994) and Bordeaux (1990, 1997, 2001 and 2005).
The Kröller-Müller Museum is set in a national park in the eastern Netherlands, with the gallery windows framing views of the surrounding woods. This makes it a particularly appropriate place to display the Gilbert & George landscapes. After completing this work, the artists not only abandoned painting for photography, but focused on their urban surroundings, reflecting east London life.
Van Straaten is borrowing The Paintings for a temporary display (9 July-21 November), and while the work is on show he will fundraise to purchase it. Discussions on the price are currently underway, and the hope is that it will be below the market value, since Gilbert & George are keen for the work to remain at the Kröller-Müller.
The Paintings will need a very large gallery for itself, so it might be shown for three months a year. This opens the possibility that the work could be lent to other exhibitions. Van Straaten is also keen on an eventual extension to the museum building, which would provide more space for the British duo’s unique venture into painting.

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