The furry, fun world of The Haas Brothers at Anderson Ranch Arts Center
The Aspen Times
If You Go …
Who: The Haas Brothers
What: Anderson Ranch Summer Series art talk
Where: Schermer Meeting Hall, Anderson Ranch Arts Center
When: Thursday, Aug. 11, 12:30 p.m.
How much: Free, registration required
More info: Register to attend at http://www.andersonranch.org
The Haas Brothers took the Anderson Ranch Arts Center by storm earlier this summer. The irreverent twin brothers and their merry band of artists spent a month in residence on the Snowmass Village campus, whipping up their idiosyncratic works in kilns, in the print shop and in the wood studio.
Nikolai and Simon Haas are back in town this week to give a free public lecture at the ranch.
After separate art and music careers, the twins paired together as The Haas Brothers in 2010 and quickly established themselves with their clever and off-kilter take on sculpture and design. They’ve created tables, chairs and clothing for Donatella Versace, landed high-profile museum shows and collaborated with female bead-workers in South Africa — all while embracing a juvenile sense of humor and throwing many a proverbial pie in the face of the self-serious art world establishment.
“I want a 5-year-old kid to walk into an exhibition we do and say, ‘Whoa, cool!’ I also want the blue-chip buyer to be impressed by it,” Nikolai Haas said in mid-June in the Anderson Ranch library on the tail end of the residency. “So it sounds difficult to reach that range, but it’s not. Because the 80-year-old banker has a lot in common with the 5-year-old kid, and it’s in their humanity.”
They often make sculpture that doubles as furniture — their signature is a Seussian, anthropomorphized style, often cheeky, sometimes silly. Chairs, for instance, coated in bright fur with toed feet and bearded lips, or ceramic vessels that look like psychedelic background scenery from “The Lorax.” It’s fun stuff. And fun is sort of the point for these two 32-year-olds.
In 2014, they installed their “Sex Room” at Art Basel Miami — an immersive installation made for the giggling adolescent in all of us, where the light fixtures were made of gilded phalluses, the decor shaped out of various private parts and walls decorated with nude portraits.
The talented tricksters have a large studio in Los Angeles, where Nikolai and Simon work with a team of about 15 artists. Originally, they wanted to come to Anderson Ranch to make ceramic pieces (kilns are one piece of equipment they don’t have back home). But it turned out to be far more creatively fertile than they expected — the brothers and their team made 15 ceramic pieces, 20 wood sculptures and upward of 100 unique silkscreen prints.
On a whirlwind tour of the studios they’d overtaken, Nikolai — decked out in a “Thrasher” hat and tie-dyed T-shirt — noted that they ended up making the two largest ceramic pieces in their career while wood-working and making prints for the first time.
Living in bunks on the rustic Snowmass campus, they worked more or less around the clock — sleeping and making art for a month straight.
“We’ve been really productive,” Nikolai said. “It’s difficult not to just work all the time, and it’s fun.”
Along with all that art-making, the Haases bonded with students and faculty — hosting game nights, sampling the Aspen nightlife and hiking around the mountains, all while talking about craft and creativity. The all-art-all-the-time experience, combined with the free spirit of the ranch, was a good fit for the Haas twins.
“It’s insane,” said Nikolai. “I don’t know if I’ve seen something quite like this — a place where there’s no end game other than the pleasure of making the work. That’s really unusual.”
Simon, who attended the Rhode Island School of Design, compared Anderson Ranch to being at art school without the academic pressure of art school. Their time in Snowmass had what may be a lasting impact on the Haases.
“The vibe has changed the way I look at how I make my own work,” Nikolai 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.”
The Haases are in the beginning stages of building a studio in Joshua Tree, California. During their time in Snowmass, they signed up a handful of Anderson Ranch staff and faculty to help build kilns and design a print shop there.
Among the brothers’ mentors was the musician and artist Vincent Gallo, whose sober, serious approach to conceptual art helped the Haases find their own unique voice.
“I felt a lack of expression of humor, sexuality — just having a good time,” Nikolai said. “Making art should be a fun experience. So we’re listening to music and dancing and drawing dicks on things. That doesn’t mean the work isn’t conceptual.”
They’re not precious about the objects they make. If someone buys a Haas Brothers table, then breaks a leg off or scratches it up, Nikolai said, he doesn’t care.
“I don’t take the work too seriously,” he explained. “It’s more about the movement, the employees and how they’re treated and how they express themselves inside the work.”
While all of the work is credited to “The Haas Brothers,” that moniker also refers to a collective of employees working for the actual Haas brothers. Nikolai compares himself to the captain of an ice hockey team and openly credits the staff artists who contribute to the pieces.
“I’m really proud of everyone that works for us,” he said. “They’re all so talented and could have super successful careers in the world. That joy is worth so much more than the very temporary glory of being able to tell everybody that it was just you.”
This won’t be the last Anderson Ranch sees of the Haas Brothers. The twins are hoping to teach workshops next summer and spend more time in the local studios.
“We’ll be coming back, for sure,” Nikolai said. “I see it as another venue for us to make work in a semi-permanent way. I see us coming back a lot.”
Nikolai and Simon will give a free public talk Thursday afternoon in Schermer Meeting Hall. If you go, don’t expect a standard lecture or Power Point presentation from this unpredictable pair.
“It’ll be heady to an extent, but it’ll be fun,” Nikolai said. “I don’t know what we’re going to talk about. I promise we’re going to talk about sex at some point. And farts.”