Gilbert and George – “art for all” or “art by many?”

This post has been sitting in the drafts of the blog over a week now waiting for a final touch. I don’t think there will be any final touch, so let’s let it have its life on the Web.

I did take the opportunity; namely to own an original Gilbert and George artwork. Guardian claimed that it offered an original artwork of the two artists and gave insructions of how to get it…or was it perhaps how to create it?

The instructions were:

Members of the public must download each of the nine panels to create the full artwork, which can then be printed off, at any dimension, and assembled. There is no limit to the number of times the work can be reproduced.

I was a bit puzzled: was I to ‘reproduce’ the artwork or was I to ‘create the full artwork’? In other words, was this a three dimensional artwork, which I would get a reproduction of by printing it out in nine A4 colour pages? Or was it a piece of digital art, which I was supposed to transform into a paper-based artwork?

The article went on to confuse me even more:

‘ “When I put the idea to them they were immediately enthusiastic,” said Yentob. The notion of a freely available artwork, he added, fitted perfectly with the artists’ long-held ideal of “art for all”, a principle that has formed the bedrock of their practice since they started working together in the late 1960s’

‘Freely available?’ , ‘art for all’? The Internet and the web have been neither ‘free’ nor ‘for all’; but that’s old news anyway. But, what I found even more confusing (if not contradictory to the ‘free availability’ of the artwork) was that the nine panels were available to be downloaded only for 3 days or so. Why the time limit? In any case, one could easily save the files and upload them on a website, blog, wiki or just attach them in one of those chain e-mails that orbit the online world endlessly. Was it a copyright issue? But I thought it was ‘free’ in the first place.

Nevertheless, at some point I managed to ignore those confusing thoughts and get down to business, that is get (or create) my own Gilbert and George artwork.

First, I saved the 9 files-future panels in my memory stick:


Then, I went upstairs, at the School’s (excellent!) audiovisuals office, plugged the memory stick in one of their computers and got the files ready for colour printing:


Which I did: Here is the first piece of the puzzle


and three more


Then I cut off the white edges from the A4 sheets, since they didn’t seem to be part of the artwork (or were they?)


After that, I had a mini-conference with one of the guys in the office trying to think how we could stick them together (all 9 A4 sheets together make an A1 sheet). He came up with the idea of gluing them on a previous failed printout that I tried to do (print out the whole artwork in one go). So, we went for it. He started to put them together. He asked me if he should leave any gap between the panels. I was not sure about the artists’ intentions, so my answer felt arbitrary and yet creative: ‘no, I don’t think so’.


And here is the assembled artwork lying on the floor of my office:


And hanged on the office’s wall:



So, after a confusing start and a quite time-consuming and indeed costly process (the printouts costed £25) I had my own Gilbert and George artwork. But the questions stayed: How does it differ from any other printout of digitised images of artworks that are available on the Internet? Is it an original artwork (as advertised) or a reproduction of an original (as also advertised)? And even more is it an original “Gilbert and George”? Or is it an original “Gilbert and George and Kostas and office guy”? In other words, is this an artwork created by Gilbert and George or is it a collaborative artwork that exists in numerous and different forms, sizes, paper types, colours and arrangements created by the two artists and numerous other users?

Is it “art for all” or “art by many”?

Information taken from:
Guardian, ‘Gilbert and George put free artwork on internet’

Guardian, ‘Free Gilbert & George art work’