The Chapman Brothers: Jake or Dinos Chapman at the White Cube, review

The brothers grim, Jake and Dinos Chapman, present the same old familiar shocks at the White Cube. Rating: * *


THE distinguished career of Dinos and Jake Chapman peaked in 2000 with the exhibition at the Royal Academy of Hell, a three- dimensional panoramic sculptural collage in which 10,000 toy Nazis and their skeletal assistants were shown gleefully engaged in mass extermination of their fellow men, women and children for the sheer fun of the thing. Soon after that coup de théâtre they came up with their glorious send-up of ethnographic art and The Chapman Family Collection and then they capped those two bullseyes with their inspired defacement of the 83 etchings in Goya’s Disasters of War.

In all these works they created a vision of the universe as an unredeemable moral and spiritual vacuum, a world in which evil isn’t an alternative to good because the concept of good doesn’t exist. Their art was visceral, funny and utterly devoid of any psychological subtext or emotional complexity. Much of it could be seen as a comment on recent events in Kigali and Srebrenica, but their devilry also looked back to the light-hearted amorality of British fairy-painters such as Richard Dadd and Richard Doyle.

After a trudge through their new show, I thought how much greater their stature in the history of art will be if they now decide to retire instead of recycling old ideas as they do here. Oh, they try to disguise the complete absence of energy by announcing before the opening that for this outing they worked separately, and then not telling us which brother did which bits. But if like me t never so much as crossed your mind to wonder what the division of labour was between them was, that particular wheeze is a non-starter.

In the Nineties they were showing shop-window mannequins of naked children who had been genetically engineered to sprout adult genitals on the backs, foreheads, faces or thighs. At White Cube, the mutant kids are back again, but this time clothed in school uniforms and with the faces of dogs, ducks, elephants or bears. The little Nazi storm troopers whom we met when they turned the landscape in Hell into a human abattoir are resurrected in the basement gallery at White Cube Mason’s Yard in the form of life-size mannequins with the faces of worm-eaten corpses. Dressed to kill in chic black uniforms with smiley- face insignias on the arm bands, they have morphed into art lovers, inspecting a show of abstract sculpture of the sort the real Nazis would have banned. And whichever brother defaced plaster statues of the Virgin and saints at White Cube Hoxton Square was doing to religious images what the brothers have already done to Goya’s prints.

Some artists can do the same thing twice, because with each repetition they refine the original idea. But as with Grand Guignol, the shock of your first encounter is everything. From the London Dungeon to slasher movies, nothing becomes more tedious more quickly than blood and gore. But don’t worry. Just as in movies featuring chainsaws and large kitchen knives, you may think the story is over, but it’s not. They’ll be back.

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