Chapman’s new non-collaborative exhibition opens
When you think of the Chapman Brothers, a tale of catastrophic mishmash comes to mind. It is almost like combining two diverging forms of creativity from opposite ends of the scale, and what do you get as a result? Absolute ambiguity. Once again this feeling was echoed at their latest White Cube exhibition. Dazzlingly grotesque may be the best way to describe it. It was contemporary art at its finest, combining creativity, energy, religious motifs and political morality in two buildings. For the past year, Jake and Dinos have been working in separate studios to produce a series of works in isolation from each other. The exhibition is staged in both White Cube locations and it is up to the public to decide which of the artists executed the work,hence the exhibition title, Jake or Dinos Chapman. Only in the staging of this show will each become aware of what the other has done. Unlike Gilbert & George, for whom Jake and Dinos worked at times as studio assistants, their practice is not one of ‘singular duality’. They have always discussed, debated, argued and on occasion fought over creative and cultural ideas, but in this exhibition they will scrutinise and confront the whole idea of creative collaboration. Whether or not these two exhibitions are is debatable.
The Mason’s Yard exhibition is not the first time the bad boys of art have left viewers a little lost for words. Both caused an array of controversy with their anatomical structure of Hell back in 1999; an ambitious tableau consisting of around 30,000 figurines displaying hell as a mixture of Nazi uniforms and egregious acts of cruelty. This was later rebuked in an even more ruthless scale called ‘Fucking Hell’ (2008). Thus an apparent obsession with perverting the image of Nazi Germany, 2008 included an exhibition also at the White Cube, displaying 13 original watercolours by Adolf Hitler which were then ‘prettified’, according to the duo. Adding clouds and stars was a way to flip the ‘awful landscapes’ that the dictator once spent his valuable time on.
The focus of the Mason’s Yard show is on the mammoth display of life sized Nazi soldiers (around 30 of them) on the lower ground floor. Looking rather ghoulish in black flesh, sinister all the while, these characters were dressed head to toe in SS uniform, with the full array of daggers, badges, leather boots … the only difference was a smiley face in place of a swastika. Again we see the Chapmans’ put a comical touch to a dark history we are all so familiar with. They molest each other, screw each other, one even gets splattered on by some bird dropping if that isn’t enough (this fake bird would shoot white paint out of its rear end every minute or so.. classic!). Others appear to worship a larger version of Chapman’s ‘Useless’ model, (the smaller on the ground floor; a menacing cardboard cut-out of what appears to be a 2D T-Rex with seven eyes on one side), while the rest are either involved in conversation, surrounded by stuffed crows or merely taking a view at the rest of Chapmans’ work on the walls. But it was their eerie smiles that made an impact. Whether they were being penetrated or beaten by the other behind, each mannequin had a smile that would make a Chesher cat appear rather grim. As a matter of fact, it appears the Chapmans’ were attempting to ridicule the soldiers with these smiles. Were the Nazi soldiers complete idiots after all?
Drawing away from the main display, Jake and Dinos Chapman’s exhibition involved a variety of other works. This included the human rainbow, a combination of 38 hand coloured etchings. These paintings were somewhat bizarre at a glance; satanic pentagrams, ghoulish faces, two human babies being carried in a womb of an insect to mention a few. A far cry from the colourful image of rainbows we are so used to seeing. The opposing wall contained around 22 pencilled drawings, which were cleverly made to appear they had been put together by numbered dotted points; the kind you see in children’s playbooks. The ground floor gallery included forty seven painted cardboard sculptures, each symbolising a type of mood or behaviour; Weeping, Useless, Postpartum How, Vile Disease were all included – Physical representations of such abstract descriptions.
Yet sealed away from the main room, the dark unlighted lift lobby had two surprising works; a mannequin dressed fully in a Ku Klux Klan outfit, but with a full on erection -lifting its cloth/clothing a few inches higher than what would be expected. This horny figure appeared to be turned on by what it was watching; an oil painting of the crucifixion. The Chapman’s called it, “Oi Peter, I can see your house from here!” Was it the cruel display of behaviour during the crucifixion that was turning on the Ku Klux perv? The cruelty, the bloodshed, the religious violation that was filled with insinuations of sadism, sexual and moral offense; is the Ku Klux is a symbol of all that is wrong in the world… ? Its motif must have some sort of connection to the underlying psychological connotations of the Chapman world. A bit of a shock if you decided to take the lift downstairs…
So what to make out of this latest Chapman masterpiece? Ambiguity? Madness? Or simply irrelevance? What is the catch? Perhaps there is no catch, but merely amusement. According to Dinos, they only create things that amuse them, which may be the reason why some of us are left a little puzzled by what we see. For the Chapmans’, making light of twisted situation is a part of their work. You could say they are just having fun with it all along. And I guess so are we. Perhaps the Chapman’s don’t see the point in scrutiny, rather a focus on the creativity. There are two separate publications to accompany the exhibition. Jake Chapman will publish his third novel titled ‘INTROSPASTIC: From the Blackened Beyond’ while Dinos Chapman will produce a publication of 22 drawings, printed to scale, titled ‘They Teach Us Nothing’. The Exhibition runs 15 Jul—17 Sep 2011 – Mason’s Yard and Hoxton Square Galleries.
Words/Photo by Roberto Duque © ArtLyst 2011