The histories behind the works in the Museum’s collection are often as engaging as the art itself. We don’t always get to share these stories, but through our collection-based exhibitions we have the opportunity to highlight the previous lives of works on view. One that I was able to see installed for the first time since it formally entered the collection is Gilbert & George’s The Tuileries (1974), which is currently on view in the exhibition Gilbert & George: The Early Years.
The large-scale, eight-part Charcoal on Paper Sculpture—Gilbert & George refer to all the work as sculpture— was originally designed to the dimensions of the living room of the home of Art & Project founders Geert van Beijeren and Adriaan van Ravesteijn. It features four charcoal drawings that hang on the walls surrounding a centerpiece of furniture modeled after the artists’ own, which is also covered in the drawn-on paper. The same chairs appear in the Video Sculpture Gordon’s Makes us Drunk (1972)—on view just around the corner—in which Gilbert & George lounge, sipping their signature drink, Gordon’s Gin.
Art & Project was an Amsterdam-based gallery active between 1968 and 1989 associated with the Conceptual art movement. Being based in one of the smaller centers of contemporary art they developed a global network of “mail art” through commissioned and printed bulletins, as a means of extending the gallery to a much broader audience than Amsterdam. Van Beijeren and Van Ravesteijn also invited artists to show at their Amsterdam apartment-come-gallery, giving them an international venue for which to experiment and showcase their work, which is how The Tuileries came to be.
Gilbert & George: The Early Years connection to Art & Project is not limited to just The Tuileries. The majority of the works in the exhibition were given to the Museum through a generous donation by the gallerists in 2009, and featured in the subsequent exhibition In & Out of Amsterdam: Art & Project Bulletin 1968–1989, organized by Christophe Cherix, who is now MoMA’s Chief Curator of Drawings and Prints. After completion of the exhibition, The Tuileries was gifted to the Museum in Cherix’s honor, recognizing the importance of the exhibition and his tribute to Art & Project’s place in art history.
While the other artworks from Art & Project Bulletin/Depot VBVR gift individually demonstrate Gilbert & George’s early production, The Tuileries captures the whole breadth of their artistic practice in one beautifully rendered installation, which was the last of Charcoal on Paper Sculptures by the artists.
Gilbert & George’s art is difficult to define, and impossible to simplify—they are two people, but operate as one artist. All their work is designated as sculpture, but it rarely fits into the box of what we understand as traditional sculpture, and they have unified their personal existence with their art, effectively dissolving the boundary between art and life. These complexities are all apparent in The Tuileries, along with other important themes that often reappear in their work—queer undertones, “Art for All,” and the relationship between the high-low cultures they aim to stimulate. For example, the title of the piece refers to a Parisian park known as a meeting place for gay men, and there they appear, two life-size charcoal renditions of suit-clad Gilbert & George strolling in the woods. The resulting image is visually and intellectually accessible, using familiar subject matter that stems from life itself, maintaining their commitment to creating “Art for All.” It also continues their undertaking to blur art and life, bringing the outdoor space into a domestic setting, fully integrating the two worlds.
Comfortably nestled between two earlier Charcoal on Paper Sculptures, The Tuileries stands out in ways their earlier works approach, but never quite reach, and functions as one of the only three dimensional sculptures in their oeuvre. To have the opportunity to see it installed is worth the visit—and to see it live beyond the walls of 36 Willemsparkweg Street in Amsterdam only adds to its vibrant history.