In a nearly unprecedented move, artist duo Gilbert & George stepped down as academicians of London’s prestigious Royal Academy of Art. The sudden resignation came days after the Academy decided not to move forward with a major exhibition of the artists’ work, planned for its Piccadilly galleries, according to a report in the Guardian.
In an interview with the Evening Standard in February, the pair mentioned a “high-profile” exhibition currently in the works. “It is extraordinary that we’ve been able to risk extreme artwork for 40 years,” Prousch told the paper. “You have to be an outsider to do art, you can’t be normal.” They are the first academy members to quit since 2005, when Peter Blake resigned from his post after his friend Brendan Neiland was voted out.
The two made history in 2017 as the first pair of artists elected to the Royal Academy as a single member. The sensational election was in keeping with their longtime personas as avant-garde performers (a critic once called them the “Siegfried & Roy of avant garde art”). Gilbert Prousch and George Passmore first met as students at Saint Martin’s School of Art in the 1960s, and today are best known for large-scale, vibrant photo collages and installations.
A spokesperson for the Royal Academy deemed their resignation “regrettable,” adding that not every academician can receive an exhibition of their work. At the moment, there are 77 royal academicians, each a practicing artist or architect under the age of 75. Membership is capped at 80 academicians at any one time, and after a member turns 76 they become a senior academician and their replacement is selected through an extensive nomination process.