NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - For nearly 40 years artists Gilbert & George have tackled issues ranging from race to AIDS -- all while working in the same East London studio, living together, wearing virtually identical suits and dining nightly at the same restaurant.
Perhaps it's their way of dealing with the fact that "the world was a very different place 40 years ago," as George observes. "And we played a small part in changing that."
The pair's first retrospective in 20 years -- a collection of more than 80 works -- opened on Friday at The Brooklyn Museum, wrapping up an international tour that began some 18 months ago at London's Tate Modern.
"The 20th century has been cursed with an art that cannot be understood," Gilbert & George write at the show's entrance. "Puzzling, obscure and form-obsessed art is decadent and a cruel denial of the life of people."
They add, "Our reason for making pictures is to change people, and not to congratulate them on being how they are."
The men incorporate representations of their heads, bodies or other parts of their anatomy into much of their art. The Brooklyn Museum describes their work as "sometimes seen as subversive, controversial, and provocative."
"It's all money, sex, race and religion," George, 66, told Reuters. "There's nothing else. Everything revolves around those four things."
But money, for one, seems of little personal interest. While contemporary art has entered the public discourse as never before in the past decade -- with prices to match -- Gilbert & George off-handedly dismiss the frenzy.
The pair, partners in life and work since meeting at art school, say they are fortunate and privileged, but not because their pieces are fetching record prices like the $3.7 million commanded by "To Her Majesty" at Christie's in June.
"We are not part of it, we never go near it," said Gilbert, 65. "Our art works are not based on (the go-go art scene), they never have been; we are trying just to do our own vision of the world."
"That's it," confirmed George, exemplifying the many ways in which the men play off of and validate one another, both in person and through their art. Women, George says, often express jealousy over the pair's egalitarian dynamic.
And they are adamant about being a single professional entity -- "two people, but one artist," as George put it.
While they explore world issues and human dialogue, Gilbert offers for example that, "We don't like to be influenced by China, or by going up a mountain ... Walking around the East End of London, that's it. That's more than enough."
So for the past year they have focused on artworks centered on the trees outside their house.
But George says, "We love change. It's good that every time we look out the window there's something different out there."
Editing by Michelle Nichols