Controversies United Kingdom

Raising a glass to Gilbert and George

Tate curators wined and dined the artists—and The Art Newspaper found the bill

Tate makes us drunk…

london. In the furore over the bricks, it was quickly forgotten that The Sunday Times (15 February, 1976) had devoted just as much space to another Tate acquisition. The paper reported on a young artistic duo known as Gilbert and George: “Their favourite medium is the video tape, and the Tate has a splendid one called Gordon’s Makes us Drunk.”

The newspaper was blissfully unaware of a lunch for the artists held at the Tate restaurant two years earlier. The Art News­paper has tracked down the story—and has found the bill of 4 Feb­ruary, 1974.

The bill totalled £31.27, which represented eight per cent of the Tate’s entire entertainment budget for the year. What particularly angered the gallery’s finance department was that over half of it was for alcohol.

Anne Seymour (now d’Offay) was the curator who submitted the bill, along with an explanation: “The lunch took place in order that we [three curators] could extract catalogue information from Gilbert and George under circumstances most likely to produce results, as these artists are well-known for their unforthcoming response to enquiries about their work. I should make it clear from the outset that this is not the normal way in which we go about cataloguing the collection.”

Seymour continued: “Un­for­tun­ately (though perhaps some­thing we should have foreseen in view of the artists’ reputation and the subject of their work) Gilbert and George consumed an astronomical amount of drink. You can imagine that it was impossible to stop them ordering without creating a rumpus. By continuous questioning under the guise of hospitality we extracted a good deal of important information.”

The food cost £14.76 and the drink £16.51. Last month curator Richard Morphet told us that most of the drink would have been consumed by their guests. Three bottles of wine were drunk—perhaps one by the three curators and one each by Gilbert and George. After that, it was presumably the artists who polished off the 12 glasses of 1952 vintage Port.

Peter O’Donohoe, the Tate’s senior executive officer, responded in a 1974 memo: “I find it difficult and alarming to believe that the only way of obtain­ing information…from these artists was to allow them to become intoxicated… I would be very loathe to put much credence on anything said that was alcohol assisted.”

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