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The Singing sculpture

Gilbert & George first presented The Singing sculpture in 1969, then repeated it over the next three years in the U.K, Europe, and Australia, and for the opening of New York’s Sonnabend Gallery in 1971. Mounting a table, their faces and hands painted in metallic colours and wearing neat, if ill-fitting suits, they executed automaton-like movements as a cassette recorder repeatedly played « Underneath the Arches », Flanagan and Allen’s Depression-era song about two down-at-heel drifters who « dream our dreams away ». The effect on their audience was unsettling but mesmeric : who were this odd duo whose demeanour and appearance were so unlike the prevailing idea of the artist? And what, if anything, did their seemingly anachronistic yet undeniably avant-garde presentation mean? As one critic wrote at the time, their Living Sculpture was a combination of Flaubert’s « Bouvard and Pecuchet doing a music hall turn, figures playing at being military dolls, Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet and Léger’s Ballet Mécanique in English terms. »