Artist Nikolai Haas returns to teach at Anderson Ranch Arts Center
On the tail end of a monthlong residency at Anderson Ranch Arts Center early last summer, The Haas Brothers declared they would return.
Nikolai and Simon Haas, the trickster twin brothers and art world darlings known for their clever and off-kilter take on sculpture and design, quite literally took over the campus during that initial stay. The kilns, print shop and the wood studio hummed around the clock, as the Haases rallied their creative team and ranch staffers. By the end of their time in the Ranch bunks, The Haas Brothers had made 15 ceramic pieces, 20 wood sculptures and upward of 100 unique silkscreen prints — including a limited edition print by Simon celebrating the ranch’s 50th anniversary.
“It’s insane,” Nikolai said during a whirlwind tour of their works-in-progress around the campus last June. “I don’t know if I’ve seen something quite like this — a place where there’s no endgame other than the pleasure of making the work. That’s really unusual.”
By the time they packed up to go back to California, the brothers decided they’d found a new artistic home along with their Wonka-like Los Angeles workshop and new studio near Joshua Tree.
“I see it as another venue for us to make work in a semi-permanent way,” Nikolai said. “I see us coming back a lot.”
Nikolai is back. He begins teaching a weeklong woodcarving class at Anderson Ranch today. The artist will guide students through the peculiar Haas Brothers approach to wood, sharing techniques to carve with idiosyncratic style.
After separate creative careers, the twins paired together as “The Haas Brothers” in 2010 and quickly made their mark. They’ve created tables, chairs and clothing for Donatella Versace, landed high-profile museum shows and collaborated with artists around the world — all while embracing a proudly juvenile sense of humor and gleefully thumbing their noses at the self-serious art world establishment.
“Making art should be a fun experience,” Nikolai said. “So we’re listening to music and dancing and drawing dicks on things. That doesn’t mean the work isn’t conceptual.”
At Art Basel Miami three years ago, they installed an immersive installation dubbed the “Sex Room,” with light fixtures shaped like gilded phalluses, decor modeled from sundry private parts and walls decorated with nude portraits.
But they’re best known for sculpture that doubles as furniture, fashioned in their signature Seussian, anthropomorphized style. They approach design with a childlike sense of mischief. Their chairs, for instance, may be coated in bright fur with toed feet and bearded lips as their bases, or their ceramic vessels might look like background scenery from a psychedelic rewrite of “The Lorax.”
In this week’s workshop, Nikolai will share some tricks of the trade for making nontraditional furniture and wood sculpture.
While Nikolai is likely to leave an impression on his students, his intense run of art-making at Anderson Ranch last summer — getting to know the talented artists who live and work there — may also have reshaped his process.
“The vibe has changed the way I look at how I make my own work,” he said. “Down the line it’s definitely going to change the way that I make work and we make work because of the camaraderie and the connections.”
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