Gilbert & George deshock at Rivoli
The largest ever retrospective of the art world's most famous Anglo-Italian pairing, Gilbert & George, has opened in the northern Italian town of Rivoli.
The exhibition at the Castello di Rivoli showcases 150 works by the enigmatic duo, who despite their classic suits and impeccable manners produce provocative, anti-conformist art that frequently involves images of bodily fluids and nudity.
Known for their huge iconoclastic photomontage grids, the pair almost always appear in their own compositions and have spent the last four decades blurring the distinction between art and artist.
"Each of our pictures is a kind of visual love letter from us to the viewer," said George, introducing the retrospective.
"We are dealing with universal subjects: death, hope, life, fear, sex, money, race, religion - these are all things that are relevant to everybody".
The Tate Modern in London hosted the same show earlier this year, where it split critical opinion strongly.
Originally from the village of San Martino near Bolzano in northern Italy, Gilbert Proesch met English-born George Passmore when they were both studying at St Martin's School of Art in London in 1967.
The pair said in an interview with the Daily Telegraph in 2002 that "it was love at first sight".
The Rivoli show begins with a film of their 1969 performance art piece, Singing Sculpture, which involved the duo standing on a table while singing and dancing sometimes for eight hours at a time - to the wartime favourite Underneath the Arches.
Other 'living sculpture' films on display here include Gordon's Makes Us Drunk (1972), showing the pair drinking gin, and A Portrait of the Artists as Young Men (1970), in which they stare into the middle distance to the soundtrack of a thunderstorm.
Next on show are early examples of the rectangular photomontage grids the duo continue to use today such as their Dirty Words series (1977), which juxtaposes images of the artists and grubby urban backdrops with swearwords or obscene drawings found in graffiti on the London streets.
The exhibition includes more irreverent work by the pair created during the 1980s and 1990s including Hunger (1982), from a series depicting animated cartoon characters engaged in explicit sexual acts, and Shitty Naked Human World (1994) from the Naked Shit Pictures, in which the artists appear nude alongside images of giant pieces of faeces.
Among their more recent work in the show are the New Horny Pictures (2001), for which Gilbert & George collected, classified and arranged adverts placed in newspapers by male prostitutes offering a wide variety of services.
The exhibition also features their 2005 Venice Biennale Ginkgo Pictures, which are based on the symmetrical leaves of the tree that thrives even in polluted urban environments.
Ending the retrospective are Six Bomb Pictures (2006), a comment on the London terrorist attacks in July 2005.
Gilbert & George collected headline billboard posters from the Evening Standard newspaper to represent the city "in an age of terror" and describe the series as the most chilling pictures we have created to date".
"We always say we're here to deshock rather than to shock we can deal with a difficult subject in a humanistic way that doesn't send people running out of the gallery, they explained.
"But art has to be extreme or it's invisible".
Following its run in Italy, the exhibition will transfer to the United States next year for a four-month stay at the de Young Museum in San Francisco.
Gilbert & George: Major Exhibition is at the Castello di Rivoli until January 13 2008.