sat 13/07/2024

Jake and Dinos Chapman: Come and See, Serpentine Sackler Gallery | reviews, news & interviews

Jake and Dinos Chapman: Come and See, Serpentine Sackler Gallery

Jake and Dinos Chapman: Come and See, Serpentine Sackler Gallery

The Chapman brothers hijack our affections by being brilliant and funny

Klansmen wearing smiley face insignia and rainbow socks admire the art

Since “puerile” is an accusation often levelled at them, I often wonder what a grown-up Jake and Dinos Chapman would look like. What would they have to do to enact the transformation? And what would emerge on the other side?

I shake my head at such questions, for puerility being the essence of their being, I suspect they would simply cease to exist, or at least cease in any convincing sense. You may as well tell Woody Allen to stop being Jewish. (Hey, Woody, if only you were a goy you’d tell better jokes.) Do away with that special Chapman brew that ferments in the dark recesses of the juvenile imagination and then frothily erupts in the form of comedy Nazis, mutant human forms in strange sexual congress, teeming dioramas enacted by toy figures and speaking of apocalyptic conflagrations, reconfigured features in a Goya etching or in some junkyard “masterpiece”, and then what? The mind draws a blank.

But where would all this clever slapstick get you if it were all slapdash?

The Chapmans not only are what they are, but they embody what they are to perfection. And just when you think you may have outgrown them yourself – like you might a lover whose jokes have grown wearisome, but really, it’s you, it’s you – they hijack your affections once more by being both brilliant and funny and more brilliant and funny than you ever remember them being. They are a vital, unstoppable force.

Like their dioramas of which there are several here, this exhibition is teeming  – nothing tastefully restrained in either curation or work. And everywhere you turn there are hooded Ku Klux Klansmen wearing smiley-face insignia: pointing, examining the artwork, standing around and chewing the fat with fellow hoodies. Manic eyes and multi-coloured socks peek out from beneath their white robes. When you pull back heavy curtains to enter the screening of a film, you find a few of them seated among the rows. You don’t want to cosy up too close.

The film, starring Rhys Ifans and David Thewlis, has, from what I can vaguely recall from previous viewings, been edited together from two earlier unfinished films projects. Ifans plays a dissolute artist, Thewlis an art teacher who reminisces about Jake and Dinos when they were his students. It’s really a film that takes the piss out of the artist in Tony Hancock mode, but with filthier jokes and more surreal humour. The sequence involving Jackson Pollock played by a liquid-filled rubber glove may just be my favourite.

Jake and Dinos Chapman, The Sum of all Evil (detail), 2012-2013But where would all this clever slapstick get you if it were all slapdash? Without exquisite craftsmanship not far, I think. Is it Dinos who paints and draws like a dream, with Jake, the talker, the thinker, the “ideas man”? Whatever garish comedy horrors befall your eyes – the diseased visage of a previously unblemished face staring out from some dull old society portrait, a tumescent cock painted onto Pinocchio’s face, or a clown’s goonish features obliterating those of a Goya cadaver – there is the arresting delicacy of beautifully handled paint. (Pictured left: The Sum of All Evil (detail) 2012-13, courtesy White Cube)

And there is undoubtedly something supremely satisfying about all this well-executed stuff – even the “bad” sculptures, with their tacked together bits of rough wood are improved in the company of their finer pieces. I am much taken, for instance, by their fired clay “lab tables”, replete with brains crawling with maggots, tubes and equipment. I read a legend on the wall, “Get rid of meaning. Your mind is a nightmare”, which continues the quote on another wall, “That has been eating you: now eat your mind.”  A quick Google search shows the quote is lifted from Kathy Acker’s Empire of the Senseless, an Eighties novel about cyborg terror in a post-apocalyptic world of the near future.  

But that was last century and this is now. Darkly do we snigger in the face of apocalypse.  

Fisun Guner on Twitter

The Chapmans not only are what they are, but they embody what they are to perfection

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