Jake and Dinos Chapman have a reputation as the bad boys of contemporary art with their anti-establishment rhetoric, searing critique of their peers and art which aims to offend every human being, living or dead, who comes into contact with it. But what have they possibly got left to shock us with? The answer is simply the fact that they are still good.
At the core of their practice is something altogether more fun and sincere than the mere shock-value of the YBA’s sharks and Nazis routine: Jake and Dinos make work to amuse and outdo each other, like grown-up brothers gleefully locked in a childish game. This dynamic makes the work at once playful and serious, as they attempt to reconcile art with contemporary life through overblown gestures of iconoclasm and capitalism, taking in motifs from politics and the history of art. The result is a body of work that spans the entire spectrum from ‘my child could do that’ to a refined aesthetic nonchalance; a body of work which takes the putrid matter of this world and reworks it until it resembles an ambiguous vision of hell or maybe just the truth that we are trying so hard to conceal.
This exhibition brings together the full range of the Chapmans’ work, including painting, sculpture, drawing, film and printmaking, with the odd scattering of genocide, vandalism and a good old singsong. Eschewing the clean minimalism of the white cube, the gallery space is bursting with stuff. A full set of 83 modified and improved Disasters of War IV (2001) consumes a swathe of wall, the hand-crafted watercolour additions mocking the seriousness of the original etchings as if a precocious child really had it in for Goya. A series of the increasingly gruesome Hell dioramas from The Sum of All Evil (2012-13) line the walkways, depicting the crucifixion of Ronald McDonald on an apocalyptic landscape ravaged by the violence and wickedness that resides at the core of all humanity.
The painted bronze sculptures of fantastically incoherent machines, such as I wanted to be popular (2008) seem ready to spring into action just behind you as you shiver at the grim faces and piercing eyes of the figures in immaculately modified paintings like One Day You Will No Longer Be Loved III (2008). Even the innocuous dot-to-dot gets the Chapman once-over in Not to Dot (2013), while a vibrant tapestry, The Axminster of Evil (2008), promises jubilant doom. The museum’s obsession with preservation and veneration is mocked in the Chapman Family Collection (2002) and Shitrospective (2009), an unbelievably crass recreation of their much-loved works in miniature cardboard models that not even your children would be proud of having made.
Everywhere there is catastrophe, violence, penis-noses and Ku Klux Klan eyes staring vacantly, but there is also colour, old-school craft, rapturous humour and continual novelty. The Chapmans are still good because they stuck to their shtick of playful seriousness and grotesque beauty, which is why we keep going back for more, like a dog returns to its vomit.
Jake and Dinos Chapman: Come and See, 29 November until 9 February, Serpetine Sakler Gallery, Kensington Gardens, London, W2 3XA. www.serpentinegalleries.org
Images: Installation views. Courtesy Serpentine Sakler Gallery