The artwork of Jake and Dinos Chapman is known to be rather jarring. From paintings and drawings to sculptures and miniatures, the brothers from England often create pieces that shock viewers. Their artwork is largely based on ideas of consumerism, sex, death and humour, peppered with their thoughts of war and childhood innocence. The Chapman’s latest show, Come and See, is currently being exhibited at the charming DHC/ART Gallery in Old Montreal.
“This show is not a retrospective. It’s not even a survey. It’s just sort of an immersion into their world,” DHC/ART curator Cheryl Sim says of the Chapman brothers’ show, which began April 4, 2014. Even though the exhibition is showcasing pieces of work from several different collections, I cannot agree more with Sim’s words. Walking through Come and See, it did not once feel like walking through a celebration of their lives as artists or even like a celebration of art. It felt more like the Chapman brothers had let us, the viewers, have a little peek into their universe.
In order to understand what exactly the Chapman brothers’ universe entails, I will give you a little background. Since the early 1990s, the brothers have been working together and creating intricately and sometimes horrifyingly detailed works of art, as well as more traditional pieces. Their works surrounding ideas of consumerism, death, war and sex are definitely their most controversial as they graphically showcase those ideas. Their collection entitled “Hell” is the first that comes to mind. The collection consists of a series of vitrines, or glass cases, showcasing very graphic and super-detailed miniature scenes of war. The idea of war that they exhibit, however, may not be the kind that first comes to mind. The vitrines prominently feature miniature Nazis, skeletons, Nazi-skeletons, dinosaurs, human bodies that have morphed together and, of course, good ol’ McDonalds. As crazy and shocking as it sounds, the detail and precision with which these pieces were created make them, in my opinion, kind of beautiful. Come and See has some of these pieces, as well as a slew of childhood-nightmare-esque paintings, tribal-like McDonalds sculptures, drawings and paintings from the 1970s to today, an intriguing film, taxidermy and some lovely work with cardboard. Oh, and a whole bunch of six-foot-tall mannequins dressed in classic Ku Klux Klan robes, rainbow socks and Birkenstocks staring at you (possibly deep into your soul) while you look at artwork. Enticing, right?
DHC/ART Gallery, a privately-owned non-profit (free!) art gallery, is comprised of four rooms in the main building and two large rooms in the secondary building. This, of course, makes for an interesting display. “The way we kind of organized […] was to slowly immerse you with this big bucket of Chapman goo and you’re slowly doused in it with every floor and space that you’re going to see,” explains Sim of the set-up. It definitely feels this way as one goes from floor-to-floor and room-to-room. In fact, I even found myself becoming so entwined in the Chapman universe that I stopped seeing the six-foot tall KKK mannequins staring at me. It was only when our eyes would lock that I realized that they were still there (and still staring into my soul). Though much of the artwork is bleak, the way in which the Chapman’s display this bleakness is through a comedic lense. The message I was really left with when I exited the exhibition was one of dark hopefulness. Sim said it best with, “They know the world’s going to shit, we know the world’s going to shit, so why not laugh about it?”
In a nutshell, Come and See cannot be summed up in a nutshell. It is an experience and to fully appreciate it, it must be viewed. I suggest getting one of the (free!) tours, as the incredibly knowledgeable staff will allow you to see the artwork in different ways.
Jake and Dinos Chapman: Come and See is on display at the DHC/ART Gallery (451/456 St. Jean) until August 31. Free admission. Special curator guided tours in English on May 29 at 6 p.m. and July 19 at 4 p.m. For more information go to the gallery website HERE.