Tuesday, August 5, 2008

hell is other artists

I had the pleasure of visiting London's Saatchi Gallery in 2004, where I delighted in a multitude of works by such YBA (Young British Artist) luminaries as Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Marcus Harvey, and Richard Wilson, whose 20:50, consisting of a room half-filled with recycled motor oil, was one of the coolest installations I've seen in my entire life.

Though while the permanent collection was full of some wondrous and, unsurprisingly, some rather upsetting art, it was a temporary exhibition that really wowed me, for upon entering the galleries I was immediately confronted with the Chapman Brothers' Hell, a work owned by Charles Saatchi but not on permanent display in his museum. I had been introduced to the work of the Chapman Brothers previously, including the work in question, but nothing could prepare me for seeing it in person, those nine large terrariums arranged to form a swastika. I'll leave it to the bbc to describe the rest:

Consisting of eight model landscapes, approximately 3'x5' each, the aptly named installation depicts an incredibly graphic vision of eternal pain with the help of over 5000 miniature people; all of whom are individually hand painted and cast. Characters generally consist of skeletons, naked men and men in Nazi uniform; usually wrapped up in a grim 'what would have happened if the Nazis won' holocaust-style mass execution in the goriest ways possible. The weird thing was that nobody seemed to be the real perpetrators; there were almost as many Nazis being tortured as anyone else. It's so systematic, but there's nobody in charge.

Crucifixions, impaling, burning, gassing, trampling, shooting, hanging - all of it makes for a harrowing image; all done with such care and attention that I couldn't look away.
That neglects to mention one of my favorite scenes, a Nazi soldier in a dilapidated church tower being sodomized by a mutant who was simultaneously eating his brains. Natch. Unfortunately there are no pictures of that particular scene, nor any that really do the whole thing any sort of justice, but it doesn't hurt to try:

Stick with me, I have a point (pun intended?). Shortly after the unrivaled experience of seeing Hell, burglars broke into an East London warehouse complex in order to steal electronics, attempting to cover up the theft by starting a fire. Sadly, this warehouse complex was partially leased out to Momart, an art storage company which handled the majority of works owned by Charles Saatchi. Lost in the blaze were Damien Hirst's Charity, Tracey Emin's Everyone I have ever slept with 1963-1995, and yes, Jake and Dinos Chapman's Hell. The artists' response to the loss was fairly ambivalent, commenting that "it is only art, we will make it again," and, in a most glorious self-referential move, creating a Momart zippo when contracted by the company to produce their annual Christmas gift. However, I myself, and I'm sure many others, was doubtful that this reconstruction would ever happen, considering the ridiculous scope of the project. Fortunately, I myself was wrong.

Very wrong.

On May 30 - yes, I'm way behind here, but I'd all but given up on this ever happening - Jake and Dinos opened an exhibition at White Cube called "If Hitler Had Been a Hippy How Happy Would We Be", a show that included a little piece entitled Fucking Hell, which, you guessed it, was a near exact replica of the dearly departed Hell. The exhibit has already closed, sadly, and I'm not exactly sure if there are plans for any sort of tour, but if given the opportunity to see you'd be remiss to pass it up. Truly a once in a lifetime experience.

"HELL hath no fury
Like a chapman spurned,
So come see the second,
'Cos the first one burned."

God I love those fuckers.

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