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


Gilbert & George (B. 1943 & B. 1942)
signed, titled and dated ‘FROZEN YOUTH 1982 Gilbert + George’ (lower right)
mixed media, in twenty-four parts
each: 23 7/8 x 19 7/8in. (60.2 x 50.5cm.)
overall: 95 x 119in. (241 x 300cm.)
Executed in 1982
Sonnabend Gallery, New York.
Madame Francis Gross Collection, France.
Anon. sale, Christie’s London, 5 December 1996, lot 88.
Private Collection, Germany.
Anon. sale, Christie’s London, 14 October 2010, lot 21.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Gilbert & George: The Complete Pictures 1971-1985, exh. cat., Bordeaux, CAPC Musée d’Art Contemporain, 1986 (installation view illustrated in colour, pp. 19, 21, 25 and 29 and illustrated in colour, p. 201).
W. Jahn, The Art of Gilbert & George, New York 1989 (installation view illustrated in colour, pp. 241 and 290).
Gilbert & George: China Exhibition, exh. cat. Beijing, National Art Gallery, 1993 (installation view illustrated in colour, pp. 27 and 29).
D. Eccher, Gilbert & George, Milan 1996 (installation view illustrated in colour, pp. 107 and 163).
R. Fuchs (ed.), Gilbert & George: The Complete Pictures 1971-2005, Volume 1 1971-1988, London 2007 (installation view illustrated in colour, pp. 41, 47, 50, 53 and 395, illustrated in colour, p. 440).
Gilbert & George, exh. cat., London, Tate Modern, 2007 (installation view illustrated in colour, fIg. 31).
New York, Sonnabend Gallery, Modern Faith, 1983.
Baltimore, Museum of Art, Gilbert & George, 1984-85, p. 138, no. 57 (illustrated in colour, p. 127). This exhibition later travelled to Houston, Contemporary Arts Museum; West Palm Beach, The Norton Gallery of Art; Milwaukee, Art Museum and New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Lot Essay

‘We like it very much when the pictures take over. When they’re bigger than the viewer. You go to a museum to look at a picture, but we like it when the picture looks at you ... We want to dominate the viewer with the forces of art. Because art can change people. We believe that’ – Gilbert & George

Executed on a monumental scale, Gilbert & George’s FROZEN YOUTH stands as a radiant shrine to eternal youth and beauty. Created in 1982, the work derives from the Modern Faith originally exhibited at the Sonnabend Gallery, New York, the following year, and subsequently taken on tour with the artists’ first touring retrospective in the United States. With its vibrant palette and vastly magnified compositional tableaux, the picture exemplifies the bigger, brighter and bolder pictures that the artists began to create during one of the most successful periods of their career, culminating in their receipt of the Turner Prize in 1986. With special lighting equipment newly installed in their studio, they began to employ models to pose for their increasingly ambitious compositions, often in tandem with their own unmistakeable likenesses. Encapsulating the central themes of their practice, the Modern Faith pictures addressed the yearning for spiritual belief in the face of life’s cruel realities. FROZEN YOUTH, characteristically articulated like a stained-glass window, meditates upon the impeachable passage of time and the ephemeral nature of the human condition. With his face upturned in a devotional stance, the youth is frozen in a state of juvenile purity – a modern-day Dorian Gray, preserved forever by the artist’s eyes. Gilbert & George – creative partners since their own youthful beginnings – sit before this glowing temple on the brink of their middle-aged prime, worshippers at the sacred altar of youth. Both triumphant and elegiac, FROZEN YOUTH is a bittersweet tribute to the inevitable transience of life and art.

Within a practice that has unflinchingly confronted the darkest strains of contemporary reality, the present work operates as a kind of vanitas: part self-portrait, part existential contemplation. For Gilbert & George, both ardent admirers of Oscar Wilde, the implicit reference to Dorian Gray is surely no coincidence. Indeed, one of the duo’s most prized possessions is a work by Reginald Hallward, the Victorian artist and stained-glass designer who is believed to be the model for the novel’s artistic protagonist Basil Hallward. Hallward’s muse – Dorian Gray – wishes that his portrait would suffer the effects of aging in his place, but a life of debauchery and decadence causes hideous corruption to the image. Driven to repentance, his attempt to destroy the portrait brings about his own death, restoring the picture to its original beauty. In FROZEN YOUTH, we are confronted with an image of perfect, unblemished symmetry: a moment in time incarcerated within the impenetrable structure of the grid. The metaphorical implications of the falling snow behind the protagonist – those of withering life and mortal decay – are held in tension with the bright, flawless sheen of the work’s surface. The artists themselves flank the central figure like a double chorus, harbingers of an uncertain future. Unlike Dorian Gray, their muse ultimately becomes a reflection of the artists’ inner selves – a symbol of enduring creative power in the face of passing time.

The ‘youth’ became something of a leitmotif for Gilbert & George in their pictures of the 1980s, appearing in a variety of guises alongside other signifiers of mortal impermanence: flowers, leaves, full moons and religious iconography. Significantly, both Gilbert & George had entered adolescence during the so-called ‘youthquake’ of the 1960s: an era in which young adults were recognised as a generation with a voice of their own, no longer subservient to their elders and free to challenge societal conventions. The moral panics, romantic myths, and new popular culture that arose during this revolutionary period broadened into expressions of free love, fashion, music and creative drug use. Although Gilbert & George have never succumbed to the vagaries of fashion, their anti-conformist stance is certainly, in part, a product of this sea-change in cultural attitudes. In their works, they wander an ever-changing societal wilderness, suit-clad and stony-faced, observing and exposing the shifting values of contemporary life. With its immaculate image of eternal preservation, FROZEN YOUTH expresses a resounding faith in art’s ability to capture – and temporarily freeze – the fleeting nature of our existence.

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