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08

The day Gilbert & George sang underneath the arches

Art

On 8 August 1969, two students from St Martin’s School of Art performed for the first time as a live sculpture, and in doing so made art history...

They would repeat the performance on countless occasions all over the world until the 1990s. At the time, George Passmore and Gilbert Prousch were still known as George and Gilbert – a few years later they reversed their names and became Gilbert & George. For The Singing Sculpture, the pair dressed up in strict suits and sported short-cropped hair, the antithesis of the art-world hippie look of the time. Their faces painted gold and silver, one wearing a glove, the other holding a cane, they danced robotically on a table singing along to a tape recording of Underneath the Arches.

 

Each time the song was played, the duo, who performed as one – “There are artists who collaborate, not us” –, alternated who wore the glove and who held the cane. Initially, the performance lasted just a few minutes, with the song being played two or three times, but at the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf they did it eight hours non-stop on two consecutive days, arriving before the first visitors and leaving after the last. “I don’t know how we came up with the idea of a singing and dancing sculpture,” they said in 1997, “but we realized we could produce a very intense work of art. It was rather depressing, the movements were really sad, but everyone felt strangely enriched by the experience – children were fascinated, old ladies were crying...”