-This exhibition is now closed-
Come and See, Jake and Dinos Chapman’s mid-career survey at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, stands as proof that the once Young British Artists have not softened with age. The brothers’ artistic practice remains one in which virtually no sensibility is above virulent lampoonery. From the soft target of children’s colouring books to Goya’s Disasters of War etchings, the artists systematically vandalise and pervert everything they touch. With Come and See, they present an exhibition heaving with images and sculptures devoid of any sense of propriety.
A visit to this show is a test of one’s tolerance for depravity. The gallery is populated by mannequins posing as exhibition visitors, dressed in Ku Klux Klan robes, rainbow socks and Birkenstock sandals; a perplexing combination of the symbolic costumes of both extreme racism and hippy free love. In the Chapmans’ famous dioramas, The Sum Of All Evil (2012-2013), hundreds of painstakingly-created figurine Nazis and Ronald McDonalds are cast as both torture victims and perpetrators in a hellish landscape of endless suffering. The 2009 series Shitrospective, in which the brothers parody their own previous sculptures with shoddy cardboard replicas, proves that the artists do not even consider their own work as sacred. Just when it seems like things can’t get any more unsavoury, the film Fucking Hell (2013) contains a scene in which actor Rhys Ifans stomps barefoot on a cockroach that has just drowned in his character’s ejaculate. There is apparently no limit to the Chapman brothers’ quest to disgust their audience.
The target of all of this tastelessness is, of course, the gallery visitor, yet the sum effect is not genuine horror – the schlocky, juvenile quality of much of the work negates this possibility – but rather mental exhaustion. From the hippy Klansmen to the tortured Nazis, via defaced Goyas and self-declared ‘shit’ art, the Chapmans’ work demands a continuous aesthetic and moral reassessment of what might be categorised as good, bad, acceptable or evil. Importantly, while the artists create the perfect environment to ask these sorts of questions, they offer no answers, the implication being that there is no true way to resolve the sort of intellectual quandary posed by their work. Theirs is a space of irreverence and iconoclasm, with little place for catharsis.
In terms of individual artworks, the Chapmans are at their strongest when applying their skills with relative restraint. Oil paintings like Swallow It Dog (2007), What A Tailor Can Do (2007) and the One Day You Will No Longer be Loved series (2008-2013) are Victorian portraits that the brothers have purchased and expertly modified to transform the subjects into lizard-tongued sadists, bloody monsters or decaying zombies, making a strong statement about human beings’ impermanence and the ultimate pointlessness of trying to control one’s image after death.
Death is also the subject of the series of 21 fine pencil drawings, What Really Happens To Us After We’re Dead (2012), in which the artists conjure a sense of ethereal tranquillity that stands in stark contrast to the hopeless mood of the rest of the show. Consisting of delicate, vaguely organic forms, possibly close-ups of human bodies in the process of peacefully decaying into nothingness, these drawings point to a notional death that is neither a terrifying void nor a blood-soaked nightmare. It seems that the Chapman brothers ‘really’ conceive of death as a calm transition into nonexistence, which, nihilistic though it may be, is the closest the duo comes to a comforting thought in this shameless, uninhibited show.
Come and See is open until 9 February.