There is seemingly no end to the superficiality of today’s postmodern art and the cravenness of those fame seekers who create it. In 2003 BritArt movement superstars Jake and Dinos Chapman purchased a suite of Goya’s celebrated antiwar etchings, Disasters of War, and in a gesture supposedly meant to lay bare the inadequacy of art as protest, defaced the set of 80 prints by drawing cartoon faces of clowns and puppies on them.
At the time art critic Robert Hughes said the works of Goya “will obviously survive these twerps, whose names will be forgotten a few years from now.” That was five years ago and sorry to say, we are still hearing about the Chapmans and their ilk. I’m loathe to mention them at all, save for the fact that they unfortunately represent a large portion of today’s art world, which needs to be emphatically criticized at every opportunity.
The Chapmans have once again placed themselves in the spotlight with their latest publicity stunt, the despoilment of thirteen actual watercolor paintings by Adolf Hitler, upon which they painted smiley faces, rainbows, psychedelic flowers and stars. Calling the suite of defaced artworks, If Hitler Had Been a Hippy How Happy Would We Be, Jake Chapman was quoted in The Guardian as having said, “If hell exists and Hitler is there, I think he is turning in his grave.” An infantile razz aimed at a long dead and despised mass-murderer hardly makes for insightful and profound art, let alone a passable joke.
Rather than a keen examination into the forces behind the rise of fascism, the Chapmans give us slapstick. Instead of investigating the links between the totalitarianism of the past and the despotism of today, the Chapmans deliver a gesture akin to the 1942 satirical recording by Spike Jones & the City Slickers, Der Fuehrer’s Face. At least the effort of Spike Jones and company had some relevancy in its day, while still being recognized for what it was, a trifling lowbrow joke.
But postmodernism has obliterated the idea of high art and replaced it with the vulgarities of lowbrow. We are all cretins now. Weight, consequence, and meaning have little to do with the works of the Chapmans and their postmodernist cohorts, who think it is a clever thing to erase and otherwise rewrite history. As objets d’art Hitler’s paintings have little worth, but as historical artifacts they are a window into a dark past that we can not afford to trivialize or forget.
Artist Charles Tomson, co-founder of The Stuckist/Remodernist art movement and an implacable foe of postmodernism, offers us further elucidation regarding the Chapman/Hitler controversy in an article he wrote for CounterPunch.