Exhibition and Artist Review – Jake and Dinos Chapman – Come and See

Who: Jake Chapman, (b. Cheltenham) 1966, and Dinos Chapman (b. Cheltenham) 1962.
What is it: A retrospective of the work of Jake and Dinos Chapman.
When: I visited on Saturday 7th December 2013.

Brief description: Morality, an obtuse view of the history of art and consumer culture are major themes in Jake and Dinos Chapman’s new exhibition –  Come and See at the newly, Zaha Hadid designed, Serpentine Sackler Gallery.

I took a huge number of pictures and several videos. I have placed these images on my picasa account but I will not share these for copyright reasons. The exhibition can be briefly viewed via the link below [last accessed 14th April 2014].

I also purchased their 2011 book “Flogging a Dead Horse” at the exhibition. It is a hefty hardback, full of glossy photos cataloguing their 23-year working partnership. Weird childish mannequins with oddly mutated genitalia intertwine with one another. Goya prints and 19th-century oil portraits are defaced with drawings of clowns’ heads and bestial monsters.


The brothers came to prominence in the 1990s as part of the generation of “young British artists”. A grouping loosely arranged around Damien Hirst’s leadership and Charles Saatchi’s patronage. Amid stiff competition, the “brothers grim” took the YBA talent for provocation to the furthest extreme. They were employed as assistants by Gilbert and George. Their work is rife with sexual obscenity, savage violence and a purposefully puerile humour.

Detractors dismiss them as juvenile pranksters whose only currency is shock value.
Supporters praise their teeming grotesqueries as linking the apocalyptic tradition of Hieronymus Bosch (b. Netherlands 1450’s –  1516) with the conceptual rigour of American artist Sol LeWitt (1927 – 2007).
All agree on one thing, however – The Chapmans’ art is likely to turn the stomach of the sensitive person.

A criticism levelled at the Chapmans in recent years has been that they haven’t developed – The same ideas resurface; the same language of provocation recurs. But to me it’s the same criticism you could level at Mark Rothko (and many, many others)? Is it imperative for the artist to be continually “novel”?

“Come and See” demonstrates the range of the artists’ output from; painting, drawing, printmaking and sculpture – to film, music and literature. It explores their provocative and deliberately confrontational work, and approaches controversial subjects with irreverence and dark – bleak – humour.

As you enter the gallery you first see Ku Klux Klansmen dressed in hooded harp replete with sandals and striped socks and fascist-styled  banners with “smiley” faces, then you see their large Hell landscapes such as; “Hell” (2000) and “The Sum of All Evil” (2012-13), which are at once monumental in scale and minutely detailed.

I made videos of each of the displays. It’s the only way to really take in the attention to detail. As you stare at the figures you feel complicit in their sick humour and the debauchery of mutilation on show.

These apocalyptic landscapes, teeming with miniature figures, depict scenes of excessive brutality involving Nazi soldiers and, in the more recent works, McDonald’s characters. The grotesque and often surreal violence of the scenes is offset by the overwhelming detail and painstaking labour evident in these and many of the Chapmans’s works.

Their art is anti-humanist and anti-Enlightenment. They choose to illustrate life as a dead end. They use a huge amount of energy constructing crazily excessive and essentially nihilist artworks.

The paramount example are the dioramas, containing more than 30,000 tiny Nazi soldiers on an orgiastic killing spree. It took several years to make these and was widely considered their masterpiece – the originals came to an ironic, infernal end in a warehouse fire in 2004. This is parodied in the exhibits “home-movie” installation. They have since painstakingly constructed three follow-ups for this exhibition at Serpentine Sackler gallery which was originally a Napoleonic arsenal.

In their book, Dinos characterises their outlook as “deeply pessimistic”. His brother Jake, elaborates: “We offer a very good social service to our patrons and employers, who are the bourgeois intelligentsia. Our little antics and our melodramas and our psychodramas furnish the bourgeoisie with the sense that their world is radical and dangerous and audacious and all these big nice words. It’s what art expresses for them.”

As I walked around the exhibition, the recent third episode of Grayson Perry’s influential Reith Lecture No.3 2013, was replaying in my head – “Nice RebellionWelcome In!” in which he asked “can art still hold the power to shock us?” My conclusion was that Art still has the power to shock. But to me, we are at a stage where “I’ve seen it all before.” to a certain extent. I would much prefer it if the Chapman’s took a less nihilistic and more direct, target of their ire. There’s a element of them trying too hard to piss people off and taking a scatter gun approach?

My personal aim is to create art that reacts against the neo-feudal, globalist, capitalist paradigm. I have already stated this in my artist’s statement of intent so I won’t repeat it here. I look toward artists like kennardphillipps for inspiration but I have certainly taken a lot from the avant-garde, nihilism of the Chapman Brothers and I am still a fan. As Grayson Perry noted – most of it is rubbish, but some of it is absolutely amazing!