The Chapman Brothers, at two White Cubes

The infamously rowdy Jake and Dinos Chapman have the kind of cheek that falls somewhere in the region of a pair of dirty schoolboys. Like all the YBAs (young British artists), their bolshy art makes you feel like they may never grow old. But unlike just naughty children or rebellious adolescents, this exhibition is the validates that this isn’t an exhibition of immature art. It’s often dark, always tainted, sometimes [almost] too aware of the world because of what its already seen.

If you start where you ought to, at Mason’s Yard White Cube, you will descend a flight of stairs to the underground gallery, to be confronted by the stares of a white-eyed military manikin. This room is populated with an army of these plastic Nazi men, haunting the room with their presence, and mostly with their piercing porcelain eyes. The first’s eyes beckon your glance, to be directed by an outreached arm to another figure. Some figures say, “behold!” some stand in awe, some in disgust, one hushes with his finger, but few hide their eyes.

It is through their eyes that we view this first half of the exhibition. They tell us both where to look, and how to respond to incidents played out through other figures positioned in the instillation. Thereby this army becomes both the art, and the audience. And we, as we meander around from one glance to another, become an active and impressionable audience.

The crimes are blatant and unquestioned (as the Brothers have created many eye-soring instillations in the past designed to critique morality, politics, sexuality and religion). Instead it’s the watching on of these incidents that is questioned. Are these plastic officers allowed to watch on, and should they? It’s like being back with the boys in a playground, peeking round the bike sheds to see what’s hitting off… By beginning to explore the intrigue in the looking on of an event unquestionably crude, they are seeing not so much how far they can push their art, but how far they can push their viewer, before the tender balance between attraction and repulsion sends something flying.

I was certainly attracted to the work in the western White Cube. True to Chapman character, the human model plays its part because it is art about people – about society. This show had the potential to be different from all of their previous shows, as for the first time the brothers worked independently of each other, not even discussing their ideas until the exhibit was uncovered in July.

Yes, it fulfilled that potential through a variety of bits and bobs. The figures at the Mason Yard gallery could quite easily steal the attention from some noteworthy prints around the four walls, but I didn’t let it. On the back wall is a series of beautiful worked-up Goya-esque (‘The Disaster of War’ especially) prints, most are as dark as a Rembrandt at its finish. Then opposite, on the near wall is a collection of art montages playing around with Hamilton’s original pop art, ‘Just What Is It that Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?’ The answer of course being a Chapman instillation.

In Hoxton Square’s upper room is four Chapman ‘religious’ instillations entitled ‘God Does Not Love You’. These I didn’t dare get too close to. A Madonna, with a serpent’s face, drips blood down her chest. Again the porcelain eyes pop out, all possessed with something unpleasant. These; torn-back skin, daggers, and blood, sheen on an otherwise matt sculpture. Only then was I a little bit offended…

Jake or Dinos Chapman is at the White Cube in Mason Yard and Hoxton Square until 17 September.


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