I knew the provocative reputation of British artists’ duo Jake & Dinos Chapman nicknamed the Chapman brothers (born in 1966 and 1962). However, the two series of works I saw before the Serpentine show did not test the boundaries of taste of the so-called les enfants terribles of the British art scene. I was intrigued and amused by the satirical-ethnographic room of wooden carvings featuring McDonald’s African sculptures at Tate Britain (‘The Chapman Family Collection’). I was scared but impressed by their altered versions of old masters paintings at the Art Under Attack show at Tate. So I wanted to see more of them and took Mr BB to the Serpentine show.
The Serpentine Sackler Gallery was packed, as you would expect on the penultimate weekend of an art show. Not knowing where to begin, I left Mr BB browsing on his own and read the explanatory board. The first words I read are the Chapman Brothers “create iconoclastic works”. Iconoclasm – from the Greek eikon (image) and klastes (breaker) – is defined as the destruction of religious symbols and artworks. An internet search made me conclude modern iconoclasts attack and seek to overthrow traditional or popular ideas or institutions. But what is their left to overthrow in the art world?
I felt uncomfortable seeing vitrines of countless, meticulously formed little figurines mostly consisting of men in Nazi uniforms, bloodied corpses and McDonald’s characters. We can guess that he Chapmans included the McDonald’s figures as a critique of the usual topics of imperialism, consumerism or globalization, assuming the artists are not making art for the sake of provoking. However, I do not understand the point of confronting McDonald’s characters with Nazi atrocities, or if there was a point.
I don’t believe those vitrines carried a message worth conveying in art. What are art’s limits? The provocative elements in Chapman Brothers work may push some boundaries. But I believe provoking for the sake of it is not art. The Serpentine show may have had more shock value that previous Chapman exhibitions I’ve seen, but it didn’t impress. [Mr BB was similarly unmoved and left after just a few minutes] ‘Jake and Dinos Chapman: Come and See’ is at the Serpentine Gallery until 9 February 2014.