Rachel Cooke in The Observer Magazine:
They are a British institution, as charming as your favourite uncle and as regular as Big Ben. Yet on the eve of their long-awaited retrospective at the Tate, the art world’s most enduring couple are feeling feisty. Rachel Cooke joins Gilbert and George for lunch at their favourite Turkish cafe and hears them trade anecdotes about homophobia, dead rats and dishy waiters …
Interviewing two people at the same time is never easy, but Gilbert and George, a retrospective of whose work opens at Tate Modern next month, take the thing (and of course they’re perfectly aware of this) to a whole new level. Ask a question and, to your right, George will offer some piece of gnomic wisdom topped off with a dash of mild smut while, to your left, Gilbert will titter or splutter or make his own naughty joke in an effort to back up his friend. Then, as you struggle to grasp what it is that they actually mean, the two of them will fall eerily silent. Their marmoset eyes are always on you, which would be scary if they weren’t so invincibly charming. George, in particular, has the kind of manners – if you ignore the smut – that one might have found behind the discreet rosewood counter of a gentleman’s outfitter, circa 1935.
Here they are talking about the long struggle they had to persuade the Tate to give them a retrospective:
George: ‘We said: “If you won’t do the show, simply write us a letter saying no” – which they wouldn’t do.’
Gilbert: ‘They wanted us in Tate Britain, but we said no.’
George:’We believe it is wrong that there is a Tate Britain and a Tate Modern. You can’t judge artists by their passports. It’s an apartheid. An apartheid in art!’
Gilbert:’Then they said: “OK, half in Tate Britain and half in Tate Modern.” So we said: “Oh, yes! And then we will have a ship [they mean going up and down the Thames between the two galleries] with a big shit round it!”‘ …
… An editor at Thames & Hudson once told George that usually, with art, the critics and the artist must gang up to convince the public. But in the case of he and Gilbert, it has always been the other way round. ‘At our last show at the White Cube, there were 30,000 visitors.’
They expect Tate Modern to be equally swamped: people are mad for art just now – although, personally, he and Gilbert disdain gallery going.
Gilbert: ‘We don’t look at other artists.’
George: ‘We don’t socialise with other artists.’
Gilbert: ‘We haven’t been to a gallery in 30 years.’
George: ‘We don’t belong to the gallery-going class, you see.’