Jake and Dinos Chapman have been fascinated by the Spanish artist Francisco de Goya (1746–1828) since they were students and for many years they have been engaged in an ongoing dialogue with Goya in their work. Nevertheless, they exhibit a profound ambivalence about such aesthetic influences and while they pay homage to Goya, they also reserve the right to knock him off his pedestal – in an art historical enactment of the Oedipal complex.
Goya’s series of 83 prints Disasters of War 1810–20 are the basis for all of the works in this room. The portfolio was made as a commentary on the Napoleonic invasion of Spain in 1808 and its aftermath, and is a damning reflection on the horrors and atrocities of war. The Chapmans first approached this series in their Disasters of War 1993, a three dimensional rendering of Goya’s etchings in which each scene is reproduced as an individual tableau constructed from toy soldiers. The miniature scale of the work appears to undermine the epic notion of war, yet gives a strange intensity to the horrors of battle. Similarly, Great Deeds against the Dead 1994 is a life-size sculptural rendering of plate 39 of Goya’s series. Here the Chapmans again employ mannequins, though this time as a way to address society’s ‘morbid’ fascination with images of death and war. These works reflect the detachment of Western societies from the realities of war-time killing, both through computer technology (which aids and sanitises war itself) and the comfortable spectatorship provided by television and film.
Disasters of War IV 2001 is a version of the Chapman brothers first major print portfolio and is both something of a magnum opus and a lexicon for their visual repertoire; in it the Chapmans give free reign to their imaginations combining references to Goya’s series and their own work with sexual behaviour, bodily monstrosity, Nazism, nuclear disaster and myriad other themes.