Fries with a distinctly bad taste
In the first of a new series examining art with Jewish subject matter, Julia Weiner looks at the gruesome work of the Chapman brothers
Torture, violence and death subject have provided artists with powerful subjects for centuries, with paintings of Christian saints and martyrs undergoing every imaginable form of torture filling Catholic churches around the world.
Even with this history, however, the work of brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman is particularly unsettling and challenging. Over the past 15 years, they have repeatedly explored themes of war and violence and the human capacity for barbarity.
Perhaps their best-known work on this theme was Hell (1999-2000), which took over two years to complete.
Using thousands of tiny models, the Chapmans created a nightmare vision of murder and mutilation in which figures dressed in Nazi uniforms appeared to be exterminated in their own camps.
The work was divided into nine different tableaux, grouped so that they formed the shape of a swastika.
Many found it in poor taste, literally belittling the horrors of the Ho- locaust, but others suggested that the Chapmans were showing how inured to mass murder we have become.
Hell, which belonged to Charles Saatchi, was destroyed in a warehouse fire in 2004. Although the Chapmans are rebuilding it, apparently even bigger, it is not ready for their current exhibition Bad Art for Bad People at Tate Liverpool. However, a number of smaller related works are on show.
Another theme that the Chapmans explore is how American consumerism, represented by McDonald’s, is pervading our culture. Their Arbeit McFries shows a massacre taking place in front of a fast-food store which bears an Auschwitz-like chimney. The Chapmans are hardly noted for their good taste, but this title is particularly crass, even by their standards.
However, in a week when The JC revealed that almost a third of younger people in this country were not sure if the Holocaust happened, two fashionable young artists bringing images of Auschwitz into a world they can recognise may be no bad thing. Jake and Dinos Chapman: Bad Art for Bad People continues at Tate Liverpool until March 4, 2007
Above: the Chapman Brothers’ Arbeit McFries. Below: detail from the same artwork, which shows a scene of carnage at the entrance of a McDonald’s restaurant