Thursday, 20 September 2012

Art: 'The Chapman Brothers are taking us for a ride' (2003)

Nominated for this Years Turner Prize, the Chapman Brothers have always tried to offend and create controversy: from ‘Fuck Face’, to the defaced Goya prints, the Chapmans have been causing offence, usually to readers of the Daily Mail. I’m not a Daily Mail reader and the Chapmans’ work leaves me feeling unsettled, not because their work is offensive or controversial, but because their work is mediocre and incredibly superficial. 

In the vain of most Saatchi-endorsed artists, Jake and Dinos’ work is outrageous in all senses of the word. The work hits you instantly and sparks an instant emotional reaction, whether it is awe, disgust, laughter or confusion. The key to the Chapman Brothers’ work is shock, and on a superficial level their art succeeds. 

When considering their piece ‘Hell’: to some, it is an incredibly powerful piece of work which shows the Chapman Brothers at their gory best. The installation contains nine glass cases arranged in the shape of a swastika. Each of the cases contains hundreds of small model soldiers killing and maiming each other in a ultraviolent vision of hell. The work took the brothers two years to craft, and in my opinion they wasted their time. The work is of the same standard as a Games Workshop diorama, little toy soldiers in a death orgy of broken bodies and fountains of blood - the type of imagery that you grow out of when you’re thirteen.

The piece has a lot of Nazi and Holocaust references, and this is apparently where its power comes from. From an early age we have been conditioned to react in a certain way towards Nazi imagery and images of the Holocaust, so is it any surprise that we are going to have some emotional reaction to it? There are certain themes that will create an emotive response regardless of the quality of the work.

What we can applaud the Chapmans for is their craftsmanship, and it is this that gets overlooked by the content of their work. The Chapmans’ work is highly detailed and painstakingly rendered. However, it is no more skilful than the work of a 40 year old virgin, who still lives with his mother and came second in the Games Workshop’s annual Golden Demon awards.

Do I have to spell it out for you? The Chapman’s are taking the piss! Their image of Stephen Hawking on the top of a cliff, the ‘Ubermensch’, is not as some see a visual depiction of the Nietzschian concept of the ‘Ubermensch’ - the notion that he who has a powerful mind is stronger than the man with the powerful body. It is making fun of a disability, using Stephen Hawking to shock their audience. When we look at works such as ‘Fuck face’, they are simply taking the piss. When they defaced Goya’s ‘Disasters of War’ – it wasn’t the fantastic anti-war statement many critics made it out to be: they were simply taking the piss.
Let it be written in stone - the Chapmans are taking us all for a ride! They are probably sitting in their big fat money bins laughing at the readings people make of their works. They are probably laughing at Saatchi for buying so much of their rubbish. They are probably laughing at us, the art lovers, the gallery goers, the people who want to be challenged, who want art to be avant-garde. They are laughing at the sensation they cause.

Is it because they love art or just enjoy pissing people off? I don’t mind artists getting people’s backs up, but they seem to be playing the same note, and the joke’s getting a bit tired. I’m not suggesting that the Chapmans’ grow up or change their art. I just pity the fools that take them seriously.

If you can be bothered to waste your money The Chapman Brothers’ retrospective is being shown at the Saatchi Gallery until the 14th of March.

This article was originally published in the Art Fist catalogue, 2003.

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