Venue: White Cube, Hoxton and Mason’s Yard, London
Running until: 17 September 2011
Now middle-aged, brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman have an exhibition currently spread across both of White Cube’s London galleries: East London’s Hoxton Square and Mason’s Yard in the West. Running until the 17th of September, this exhibition finds them working distinctly alongside each other, whereas they have been working in isolation for the past year.
After graduating from the Royal Academy of Art in 1990, the Chapmans emerged at a time when Damien Hirst actually still had hair. In the 90’s they remade all 82 of Goya’s Disasters of War engravings as airfix models using plastic toy soldiers, presenting the feelings of horror and atrocity in a consumer shop-window spectacle. Like much of the British artistic outpour of the decade, the Chapmans showed a blatant disregard for the ‘untouchable’ aura around masters of the past.
The Mason’s Yard show starts on the ground floor, with 47 semi-abstract cardboard painted sculptures, embellished with packaging paraphernalia and cotton buds atop plinths crowded into one room. The curation creates more than one awkward social moment in having to choose the least embarrassing way to invade the personal space of other viewers. The brothers, who have always professed to make art to amuse one another, would probably find this hilarious.
The childlike takes on modernist sculpture in the Lower Gallery are playful and juvenile – they show a group of Nazi-clad adult mannequins, engaging in absurd or graphically obscene acts with taxidermist birds. The centre of the room draws distinctly uncomplimentary parallels with the private collectors of today’s market and the fetish of consumption, with its greedy, bulging eye sockets. A great example of this kind of perversity in art is in a room just off of the main lower level – standing in front of a genuine Brueghel from 1604 is a single KKK member with an erection, wearing tie-dye.
In Hoxton, the ground floor is taken up by the similar themes, but with free entry, the more intimate layout fills the Gallery much better. The space once again is occupied by grotesque mannequins, this time a group of school girls uniformed with swastikas and Nike trainers. Assembled as if gazing at the far end wall painting, like a backward school trip, their presence is far subtler then the fully grown men. Only by moving around to look into their faces would you be able to notice them being replaced by different animal noses, mouths and ears. Their stealthy perversity, easily missed, is adopted in the seven or so canvases around the room. Reminiscent of the whimsical watercolour children’s illustrations, cartoon animal silhouettes are dropped within abstract landscapes. If the Nazi girls are on a school trip, then the Upper Gallery has been furnished for their sadistic nun of a teacher. Cheap Catholic gift-shop statues of Mary and Jesus sit atop antique furniture – Mary with clawed, raw, snake eyes and Jesus with tentacles for a mouth. Lining the walls are similarly cheap and kitsch religious paintings with inscriptions; R.O.F.L captions a portrait of Jesus in the crown of thorns.
Perhaps the Chapmans have found a structure behind the shock: that the enduring influence of modern art today was down to the very fact they shocked at the time, that if the Nazi’s had embraced rather than ex-communicated, the landscape of art would be remarkably different. Shock here has the ability to expose, rather than simply create an aesthetic reaction. Yet the Chapmans are obviously biased, and it’s what they have built a career on for nearly 20 years.