First Night: Jake or Dinos Chapman, White Cube: Masons Yard & Hoxton Square

Violated childhood and harmless blasphemy... it's the Chapmans again
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Just as we thought we were about to enjoy the beginnings of a somnolent summer, we have another bout of near frenzied chapmania over at White Cube. What's the newsworthy angle that these two faux-nasty, middle-aged boys have cooked up for our poisonous delectation this time around? Last time I reviewed a show by the two of them at Mason's Yard, they had over-painted some very poor daubs by Adolf Hitler – pleasingly newsworthy and shockingly tasteless.

This time the story is a little different. These two have always been collaborators. Until now. Recently they have been working on their own, in separate studios. So the teasing question is: who is where, and how do their works differ from each other (if at all)? It's a poorly kept secret. The lady at the desk tells me Jake is at Mason's Yard and Dinos over at Hoxton Square.

So are there dramatic differences? Sadly, no. The two seem to be clones or amalgams of each other. Both love – have always loved – blasphemy. It's such harmless fun to blaspheme against Christianity, so lacking in danger to the artist. At Mason's Yard, Jake gives us a Bosch-like crucifixion scene with Pinocchio-nosed onlookers, a dinosaur being torn apart by a cur, and all observed by a Klu-Klux Klan mannequin. At Hoxton Square, Dinos has created an entire chapel-like space on the first floor with a saint whose mouth bleeds, a monk with popping eyes, and an angel with darting, lizard-like tongue.

Back at Mason's Yard, full-size mannequins in black, a mix of Nazi storm troopers and security guards, play at being art connoisseurs, peering and pointing at the engravings on the walls, the sculptures that rise up to confront them. One of them is being buggered. How un-shocking all this is, how tediously familiar it seems. At Hoxton Square, a crowd of mannequin children encircle a painting of a bunny rabbit crooning at the moon. The children – we see them from the back – are dressed in identical tracksuits. It is their faces – we know this without having to be told – that we will be shocked by. One has the face of a wolf, another a lion, etc. This is another over-familiar Chapman theme: violation of childhood innocence.

This is the problem with the greater part of these two shows. We have seen all this before. We have been shocked by this kind of outrageous and insolent mockery once too often. Why can't these boys calm down a bit? Why do they have to keep cocking snooks at us? The Chapmans need to do something different. They need to learn the courage not to shock.

There is just one moment in these two huge shows when this does begin to happen. The first gallery in Jake's show consists of a crowd of 47 crudely fashioned, hand-painted cardboard sculptures, all mounted on white plinths, rough assemblages of abstract gestural components which seem to reach towards figuration and then draw back. They put us in mind of the great years of Cubism, 1911-1912. They seem to be working through interesting ideas about how to represent the two dimensional three-dimensionally. This could be the start of something interesting. Don't count on it though.

Inside Arts & Books magazine: The art of the Arab spring, cover story