Necessary Violence: The Rectification of Goya by the Chapman Brothers

When the prints of the Chapman brothers series Insult to Injury made their first appearance in 2003 they were immediately met with skepticism. While some critics praised the brothers as the ultimate humanists, others dismissed their work as an insult to an old masters series. The series itself takes the prints from Francisco de Goya’s Disasters of War portfolio and superimposes images of puppies and clowns onto the victims. While the work appears insensitive in nature, there is a deeper more psychological reaction to the pain seen in these distorted bodies.

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By drawing a clown’s face onto the body of a suffering victim, there is a strange collision of humor and violence. The clown is a symbol for the tortured individual that displays their pain in front of an audience. This combination of the clown and the horrors of war etched by Goya, create a new dialogue about modern warfare.

” And that is the very vehicle of the grotesque–the intersection of high and low, humor and horror–to collapse that which critics would dismiss as mere vandalism and silliness even as it fixes our gaze. Drawing over Goya’s print was the only kind of violence, perhaps, that the art community could still feel, could still register as being very personal. Because this aesthetic naturally resists closure, the viewer is denied the catharsis expected in our queasy relationship with the humanities.”

While I still feel that the Chapman brother’s twist on the Disasters of War portfolio is unappealing visually and doesn’t accurately convey the brutalities of war. Personally the cartoon faces are a distraction to the rest of the piece and don’t allow me to even consider their context in the image as a whole. While I understand now how they do provide a lack of closure that we expect from images about war, they still create too much of a diversion for me. I appreciate the way the Insult to Injury series creates a new dialogue about the very nature of violence and the grotesque, but I still feel that the images chosen to deface the works with draw too many allusions to vandalism to be considered in any other context.

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