The art duo Gilbert & George famously describe themselves as “two men, one artist.” What about the equally celebrated aesthetic twosome Jake and Dinos Chapman (who coincidentally once worked as assistants to G&G)?
I ask them that question in an interview. “We’re two boys, lots of artists,” Dinos replies.
There certainly is something more than a little boyish about the Chapmans, whose latest work is on show at the White Cube gallery’s two London sites. Perhaps “teenage” would be a more precise description of an artistic enterprise that revels in horror-comic violence, practical jokes, outrage to conventional good taste and lovingly detailed model-making.
The current dual exhibition has a novel twist to which the title gives the clue: “Jake or Dinos Chapman.” Normally, they collaborate closely. On this occasion they worked separately, and didn’t see each other’s efforts until a fortnight before the shows opened. So was there surprise when each brother revealed his efforts to the other?
“It was mildly familiar,” Jake says, “how I imagine senile dementia to be -- you see things that have an uncanny familiarity.” In the installation, the productions they made in seclusion have been mixed together. Would they say who made what?
“No,” says Dinos. It would take a very close observer of the Chapmans to be sure of the division. I suspect that Dinos (born in 1962), the elder and more jokey one, is responsible for the boisterous one-liners; for example, a sculpted group of hooded children gazing at a painting of a gothic woodland scene. When you walk around the figures, you discover that from each cute childish face protrudes the sinister snout of a beast.
Nazis in Uniform
And perhaps it was Jake (born in 1966) -- more wordy and theoretical -- who crafted the multiple pastiches of abstract sculpture at Mason’s Yard. Which Chapman came up with the black-faced, uniformed Nazis who gaze in consternation at these examples of “decadent” art is anyone’s guess. In any case, neither sibling does anything startlingly new in these shows.
Apart from abstraction and Nazis -- the latter a bit of a Chapman cliche -- there are Baroque religious sculptures (with areas of skin unpleasantly peeled back) and a painting in the style of Bruegel contemplated by an aroused Ku Klux Klansman. Business as usual for the boys, you may say.
Underlying the cross-cultural knockabout is a philosophical point. The Chapmans think that the heroic, individual artist expressing his or her vision and emotions -- Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Tracey Emin -- is a myth.
“What we make has more in common with other art than it does with Jake and Dinos as people,” says Dinos. “I find it a strange idea that there are individuals. I don’t think that they exist.”
So what does exist? “Overlaps,” Jake promptly says. “The idea of thinking of art as a continuum of ideas is much richer and more interesting.”
Agreed, the Chapmans’ work is not about their feelings. It’s a cut-up of high culture and low culture, good taste and bad taste. The paradox is that a distinct personality nonetheless emerges -- a blend of aggressive laddish humor and cool post-modernist theorizing.
They collaborate, Dinos muses, because they know each other. “It would be pointless to phone up someone you’d never met,” he says. Joint creation works, Jake adds, because it’s dysfunctional.
“When it stops working,” Dinos says, “I’ll sack him.”
“Jake or Dinos Chapman” runs through Sept. 17 at White Cube, 25-26 Mason’s Yard, London SW1, and 48 Hoxton Square, N1. Information: http://www.whitecube.com or +44-20-7930-5373.
(Martin Gayford is chief art critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)