After Dunkirk, Venice, ’S-Hertogenbosch, and Rennes, Jake and Dinos Chapman’s <i>Fucking Hell</i> will be presented at the Fondazione Prada in the exhibition “SANGUINE/BLOEDROOD” curated by Belgian artist Luc Tuymans (born in 1958, lives and works in Anvers). The Chapman Brothers (born respectively in 1966 and 1962) are part of a long tradition of artists who have denounced the absurdity and horror of war, most vividly in <i>Fucking Hell</i>.
Jake & Dino Chapman
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Curator in chief<br>
Musée de l’Élysée, Lausanne
<span class="alinea"></span>Panoramic paintings, a trend that began in the late eighteenth century and continued into the nineteenth, are massive, all-encompassing depictions of a given scene, typically spanning a full 360 degrees and thus usually presented on the interior walls of a rotunda (or cyclorama, if specifically built to show a panoramic work). Through carefully crafted optical effects and manipulations of perspective, panorama painters hoped to create for viewers the illusion of finding themselves at the center of an urban or natural landscape. During the nineteenth century, famous battles throughout history—the heroic bravery of gallant soldiers and the frenzy of their bloodthirsty attackers—were common subject matter for these works.
<span class="alinea"></span>The artist Luc Tuymans is certainly familiar with this tradition, given that his monumental painting <i>Saint Georges</i> (2015) shows the backs of viewers looking at a panorama of the Battle of Waterloo (1815), presented in a rotunda built on the site of that famous battle, where Napoleon was finally defeated. One of the best-known Belgian painters working today, Luc Tuymans was born and continues to live in Antwerp, home of the great Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640). Tuymans was invited to curate a masterful exhibition on the theme of the Baroque, presented first at the M HKA in Antwerp as part of a citywide cultural festival celebrating Rubens (June 1–September 16, 2018), then at the Fondazione Prada in Milan from October 2018 to February 2019. Titled “Sanguine/Bloedrood,” these twin exhibitions seem fed by the energy flow of life and death, the sustaining red liquid that circulates in our bodies. They are also sustained symbolically by the presence of red, a color that long ago was worn exclusively by those belonging to a certain social class, who had the right or privilege to spill blood: knights, kings, and the clergymen who commissioned works from Rubens. So Tuymans’s curatorial project becomes a subtle allegorical parable about those who today claim for themselves the right to decide the fate of others, and about their victims, most of them nameless, often innocent, who are sacrificed in the name of military or political might, spiritual or moral right.
<span class="alinea"></span>Tuymans decided to include Jake and Dinos Chapman’s gruesome reinterpretation of the military panorama in the Milan iteration of his exhibition: the installation <i>Fucking Hell</i>, created in 2008 after the destruction of their earlier version, <i>Hell</i> (2000), during the 2004 Momart warehouse fire in London. Composed of nine large vitrines, of the kind you might find in a museum of natural history, arranged in the shape of a swastika, Fucking Hell depicts an apocalyptic holocaust of skeletons and SS soldiers the size of tin soldiers, carefully painted and meticulously arranged. It evokes many precedents: <i>The Miseries of War</i> (1633), a series of eighteen engravings by Jacques Callot, a contemporary of Rubens, depicting the ravages wrought by the Thirty Years’ War raging at the time in Central Europe; Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes’ <i>Disasters of War</i> (1810–1815), which denounced the horrors of the war between Napoleon’s French Empire and Spain; Otto Dix’s powerful etchings "The War," published in Berlin in 1924, based on Dix’s grisly memories of the First World War (during which Dix had served as a machine gunner, even receiving the Iron Cross) and the rise of fascism in Europe; Pablo Picasso’s two prints titled <i>The Dream and Lie of Franco</i>, aquatints he made while working on <i>Guernica</i>; and the violence of the Vietnam War, to which the title of the works also refers.
<span class="alinea"></span>Frozen behind panels of glass, this war to end all wars is startling and repulsive, fascinating and frightening. As André Chastel explained, quoting Michel Foucault, “The figure of madness cedes its place to the fear of death, moving from ’the discovery of the inevitability of man’s eventual end, to a scornful contemplation of existence itself.’”