Gilbert and George – and the night they drank the Tate dry

The artists Gilbert and George spent nearly a tenth of the Tate Gallery's annual entertainment budget during a single boozy 1970s lunch with curators, archive material shows. The curators' excuse? It was research.

In 1974, Tate employees, including Anne d'Offay, wife of the influential art dealer Anthony d'Offay, entertained the pair with a lunchtime binge. The artists drank "the majority" of three bottles of wine and 12 glasses of vintage port. The corresponding expense claim, 8 per cent of the Tate's annual budget for entertaining, angered senior figures at the gallery.

"Unfortunately, Gilbert and George consumed an astronomical amount of drink," said Mrs d'Offay, the Tate curator who submitted the expenses claim. "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," Mrs d'Offay added.

The move attracted criticism from Mrs d'Offay's superiors at the Tate at the time. "I find it difficult and alarming to believe that the only way of obtaining information... from these artists was allowing them to become intoxicated," wrote senior executive officer Peter O'Donohoe in a memo responding to the expenses claim, found in the archive material by The Art Newspaper. "I would be very loath to put much credence on anything said that was alcohol assisted."

Two years after the meal, the Tate acquired Gilbert and George's 1972 film, Gordon's Makes Us Drunk, which shows the pair getting drunk on Gordon's Gin. It was one of their significant early successes, cementing a close relationship with the gallery that has continued for nearly 40 years.

In 2007, the Tate Modern showed a major retrospective of the pair's work, at that time the biggest ever retrospective of any single artist's work.

The 1974 meal's total bill was £31.27 (nearly £300 today). According to Tate curator Richard Morphet, the majority of the alcohol was consumed by the artists. "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 un-forthcoming response to enquiries about their work," added Mrs d'Offay.

"I should make it clear from the outset that this is not the normal way in which we go about cataloguing the collection," said Mrs d'Offay.

George Passmore was born in Devon in 1942, while Gilbert Proesch was born in Italy in 1943. They met while students at St Martin's College, where they began exhibiting together and creating art. In their work they attempt to adopt the identity of "living sculptures", as both creators and subject.

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