Gilbert & George (b. 1943 & b. 1942)
Gilbert & George (b. 1943 & b. 1942)

Raining Gin

Gilbert & George (b. 1943 & b. 1942)
Raining Gin
titled and printed with artists' signature and date 'Gilbert George Spring 1973 44 Part Photo-Piece Raining Gin' (on the reverse)
gelatin silver prints in artists' frames, in forty-four parts
each: 10 1/8 x 3 1/8 in. (25.7 x 7.9 cm.)
overall: 77 1/2 x 44 3/4 in. (196.9 x 113.7 cm.)
Executed in 1973.
Sperone Gallery, Turin
The Estate of Ileana Sonnabend, New York
By descent to the present owner
R. Dutt, Gilbert & George: Obsessions & Compulsions, London, 2004, p. 40 (illustrated).
R. Fuchs, Gilbert & George: The Complete Pictures 1971-2005, Volume 1, 1971-1988, London, 2007, pp. 128 and 150 (illustrated).
Turin, Sperone Gallery, New Decorative Works, Spring 1973.
Eindhoven, Stedelijk van Abbemuseum; Kunsthalle Düsseldorf; Bern, Kunsthalle; Paris, Centre Pompidou - Musée national d’art moderne and London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Gilbert & George 1968-1980, November 1980-July 1981, pp. 120 and 123 (illustrated).
Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Gilbert and George, October 1997-January 1998, pp. 113 and 427 (illustrated).
Minneapolis, Walker Art Center and Los Angeles, Hammer Museum, The Last Picture Show – Artists Using Photography 1960-1982, October 2003-May 2004, pp. 136 and 324, no. 59 (illustrated in color).

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Sara Friedlander
Sara Friedlander

Lot Essay

Standing over six feet tall, Raining Gin is a highly impressive forty-four part photo sculpture that forms part of the artists’ earliest now iconic photo-pieces and is exemplary of Gilbert & George’s incomparable artistic practice which continues today. Commemorating the occasions of drunkenness experienced by the inseparable duo, likely at their favourite haunt at the time the Balls Brothers Wine Bar on Bethnal Green Road, the group of black and white images in their loose mosaic composition recreate a heady atmosphere where the artist’s themselves are the protagonists. Embodying their collective ambition for life to make art, and art to make life, best articulated by their maxim “Our lives are one big sculpture” (Gilbert & George, quoted in, Gilbert & George: The Complete Pictures 1971-1985, exh. cat., CAPC Musée d’Art Contemporain, 1986-87, p.x), Raining Gin is a perfect tribute to the pioneering artistic experiment of two young artists who combined performance, sculpture and photography in a truly revolutionary way.

Gilbert & George inaugurated their first photo-pieces in 1971 on their return to England. This followed their spectacular success in both Europe and America with their groundbreaking work, The Singing Sculpture, in which the two artists, with their characteristic irreverence, performed the British singers Flanagan and Allen’s vaudeville standard Underneath the Arches to enthralled crowds of art world spectators. Despite the success of The Singing Sculptures, Gilbert & George soon found the experience of public performance limiting and turned to film and photography as a means of propagating their unprecedented ambition to erase the boundaries between life and art. In this vein, and following their conviction that art should be true as to life as possible, Gilbert & George saw drunkenness as a valuable experience worth examination.

By offering themselves as objects for contemplation and examination in works such as Raining Gin, Gilbert & George sought to elevate an otherwise ordinary experience. In doing so, the artists’ contrived to unravel the ideologies and pretentions of art history. By this means the duo continued to conflate the artist and the artwork, a task they had originally set out to achieve as students at St. Martin’s College of Art in the late sixties. Their rejection of the overwhelming focus on formalism and materiality in art at the time, and the subsequent development of an entirely distinctive, and subversive artistic language that continues today, saw its true foundations in these early photo-sculptures.

Immaculately dressed in their signature suits and ties, Gilbert & George as living sculptures maintain their own 1st Law of Sculptors as decreed in 1969 “Always be smartly dress, well groomed relaxed, friendly, polite and in complete control” (Gilbert & George, “The Laws of Sculptors,” quoted in Gilbert and George 1968-1980, Eindhoven 1980, p. 51). Despite their sober dress, the latter half of their first law is entirely obfuscated by the deluge of tumbling glasses falling across the individual photographs, obscuring the artists’ otherwise composed, expressionless faces. The overall effect has a sense of a descent into drunkenness, the composition itself tilted in tipsy confusion. The duality seen here between appearance and behaviour, composition and reality, is integral to the artist’s commentary on the truthfulness of their art. In comparison to their contemporaries who were trying to reconcile the inebriation of their personal lives with the formality of their artistic practice, Gilbert & George in their Drinking Pieces sought to create an honest portrait of modern reality.

Exhibited alongside a group of similar drinking sculptures in the New Decorative Works exhibition at Galleria Sperone, Turin in 1973, Raining Gin can be seen as part of the two artists’ progressive phase of descent. Moving away from their humorous, deadpan filmed performance, Gordon’s makes us drunk at the Tate Gallery in 1972, which was accompanied by a formal soundtrack of an Elgar and Grieg, Raining Gin with its hazy haphazard composition hints at a more Hogarthian Gin Lane level of intoxication and insobriety. In this way, Raining Gin acts as a stepping-stone towards the complete disintegration and black landscape of their later Dusty Corners, Dead Boards and Shadow Pictures. Insisting that their work exceeds the documental to achieve a far deeper message, “None of our works are documentaries. They are thoughts, spiritual” (Gilbert & George quoted in, Gilbert & George: the Completed Pictures 1971-1985m London 1986, p. xxi), Raining Gin thereby occupies an important chapter in the artist’s semi autobiographical oeuvre, in many ways mirroring the collective suffering of the decade as the seventies seemed to progressively darken into a bleak grey landscape of industrial action.

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