BY Gregor Muir in Reviews | 06 SEP 96
Featured in
Issue 29

Some of My Best Friends are Geniuses

BY Gregor Muir in Reviews | 06 SEP 96

'"Some of my Best Friends are Geniuses" presents a survey of some of my best friends' work whose aesthetic emissions just happen to display the characteristic symptoms of genius' states Jake Chapman in the press release. Immediately, problems arise over the inclusion of Dinos Chapman's mannequin of Siamese twins with deformed genitalia, Stuffler (all works 1996), which is so obviously a joint venture that we can only assume that Jake withdrew his name to avoid confusion as to being his own best friend. But that's just small talk compared to the show's inherent claim that the collapse of aesthetic ambition is an act of genius.

Russell Haswell pretty much sets the tone: suspended from the ceiling, a model of Stonehenge is apparently in the process of being airlifted in by an alien spacecraft. Haswell's revision of Erick von Daniken's ancient astronaut theory, finds its punch-line in the title, Cash On Delivery. Another work, whose title is best read backwards, Natas Fo Dnah Deniats Doolb No, consists of a mannequin's arm which reaches out from the wall to form a devil's horns finger salute - a common gesture at rock gigs. Attached to the arm, an outmoded Casio watch - behind by six hours and four years - boasts a function which generates lottery numbers between 1 and 50. The UK national lottery stops at 49. Seemingly, any amount of time spent with Haswell's work induces perceptual brain-drain - the more you look at it the dumber it gets.

Gavin Brown's photographic reversal of the original film poster for Easy Rider, throws together a surprisingly complex narrative. While the text is difficult to read reversed, the image of Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in full hippie regalia astride Harley choppers appears significantly unaltered, and any attempt to reverse the film's outcome - a meaningless roadside death - is sadly unavoidable.

Putting the boot in, David Falconer opts for a conceptually drunken assault on other, established artists. Hangers - a mobile of anonymous individuals from contact magazines superimposed with the faces of super models - sets up a painful trigonometry between porn, couture and Sarah Lucas' self-portrait mobiles, here under attack.

But the abusive nature of Hangers goes nowhere as Falconer's complete lack of style can only concur with Lucas' own. Similarly, Coke Tree, a glass of mouldy Coca-Cola positioned on a glass bracket shelf, is clearly intended to upset the similar configuration by Michael Craig-Martin - Oak Tree (1973). At this stage, anyone would be forgiven for banging their head against the wall.

Tim Sheward and James White's Pit Shop, Shit Stop, offers little respite from the sphincter-aesthetic. The work is a high performance motorbike resprayed in various shades of brown. Parked inside the gallery, the bike sports logos for combative products against diarrhoea, such as Arret and Dioralyte. Hardly something to boast about on the race track, but then again, no less embarrassing than Durex - a long time sponsor of rally racing - which equally suggests a form of speedy evacuation.

Jake Chapman's sister, Gaby, has produced a bronze cast of four erect thumbs entitled Thumbs Up To The Artworld. Protruding from a lumpy base, the arrangement of thumbs resembles cow's udders. It is only natural that we should struggle to interpret such utterly dumb art. But the work in this show hardly requires outside help to tear itself apart - as it so often reminds us.

As an example of what occurs when you press the button on your own body, Bruce Louden's Tongue and Toe consists of body parts amputated by the artist and preserved in a Robertson's jam jar. If the work is to be believed, Louden's self-mutilation for art's sake can only be measured in terms of such a deeply sad act.

As a singular take on the anti-aesthetic, 'Some Of My Best Friends...' is far greater than the sum of its parts. What it openly displays is a generosity capable of producing artworks of unexpected beauty. Namely, Chris Ofili's wee canvas, The Chosen One, whose composition is dependant on an afro hairstyle, and Haswell's primitive felt-tip study of the Chapmans at work - The Making of Great Deeds Against the Dead (1994). In any other context, these works would be drowned out by screaming me-me's. Having said that, the mix and match mechanism between 'low' and 'sub-basement' could be smoother. Amongst such irksome company, Sam Taylor-Wood's Wrecked - a photographic reconstruction of The Last Supper with friends as disciples - represents the kind of high-altitude art which the other artists hope to shoot down. Genius, according to this show, is a confused state of mind; an aimless void where nothing attempts to make history. Summing up the condition, Falconer's dead rat clings to the ceiling like a spider undergoing an identity crisis. A sick little creature, Rat embodies the characteristic symptoms of Post-Modern trauma - a condition which reconfigures new-wave as no-wave.

Gregor Muir is director of collection, international art, Tate. He lives in London, UK.