White Cube Mason’s Yard and Hoxton Square
15 July–17 September 2011
By ANNA McNAY
Whereas 20 years ago, at the start of their joint career, one might have found these elements shocking, their fame is now such that one goes to a Chapman brothers show expecting such iconoclasm. We are prepared, immune almost, just like society at large when it comes to images of violence on television. Yet isn’t this precisely the point? The Chapmans are not suggesting that transgression should become an accepted part of society, but, rather, that what people already have in their heads is a lot more horrific than anything on display in the gallery. Modern society is intrigued by distortion, anomaly, immorality and evil.
Nazis have been a common feature in the Chapmans’ art, because, as Jake’s fictitious self in his new “novel”1 explains, they are “the transcendent baddies, evil ad-infinitum.” This time round we encounter a whole troop of larger-than-life, black-faced Waffen-SS men, standing and observing the artworks, some also casually engaging in sodomy, in the basement of Mason’s Yard. Wearing uniforms accurate to every last detail, apart from the acid house smiley faces in place of swastika armbands, these figures recollect the exhibition of Degenerate Art, organised by the Nazis in Munich in 1937 – a clear attack on today’s pundits who offer authoritative views on the value of art.
Religion is another focal point in both galleries. Mason’s Yard offers a flagrant graffitiing of a crucifixion scene by Brueghel, adding leprous disfigurations, lolling tongues, oversized eyeballs, trunks, snouts and beaks to the canvas, in front of which stands, more hideous still, a life-sized black mannequin, complete with Jesus sandals, Rasta rainbow socks, Ku Klux Klan hood, and an erection. Further defacements target a series of etchings by Francisco Goya (1746–1828), something of an inspiration to the brothers who have used his works in many of their own. Speaking about a plate from his series The Disasters of War, Jake explains: “Goya is being quite cruel about Christian redemption, shifting the Christian iconography to show there’s nothing beyond. That what you’re looking at is dead bodies. There is nothing to be optimistic about. It’s just aestheticised dead flesh.”2
The upstairs room in Hoxton contains an installation which furthers this point. A personal shrine, with statues and paintings of Jesus, Mary, and the angels, these too desecrated like victims from the worst kind of zombie movie, it is the titles which resonate: God Does Not Love You, with a range of text-speak suffixes, including O.M.F.G., F.M.L., and W.T.F. Is this what religion has been reduced to? Its language and icons corrupted, with no saving grace at the end? Blasphemy has become such a part of modern parlance that we even have the acronyms for it – reappropriation eerily echoing the Nazi adoption of the ancient Indian swastika symbol.
In a recent interview3, Dinos claimed that he and Jake are not interested in being moralists, and only make things to amuse themselves. Whether or not one views the resultant output as an egregious violation of propriety, or merely the banal product of two overgrown boys’ distorted minds, perhaps says more about the spectator and his own predelictions, than it does of the artists themselves.
2. Jeffries, Stuart. “How the Chapman Brothers became the brothers grim” in The Guardian, 3 August 2010. Available online at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2010/aug/03/jake-dinos-chapman-childrens-art