Haas Brothers: Volume One
Foreward by Evan Snyderman & Zesty Meyers, R & Company
with text by Niki & Simon Haas, Laura Dern and Berthold Haas
Damiani Bologna, Italy 2014
Softcover, 176 pages. 128 illustrations. 11.5 x 9 inches
There are quite a few facts in the world: A Girl Named Troy is a great title for a book, to the colorblind the sky isn’t blue or pink and, sex is very popular both as a subject for art and entertainment, but also as a topic of disfavor. And these facts are not new. Sex has sold art so long as art has needed to sell, just as gray is an older and more familiar sight than the color blue.
Above image: Cover to “Haas Brothers: Volume One.”
The Haas Brothers contain in their works a strong tradition of eroticism, not in the subtle and pleasant noon sun-like eroticism displayed by the constrained, but the explosive eroticism of artists like Petronius, Boccacio, Schele, Rodin and Carlo Mollino; those who would look, to borrow from this storied past, towards the Origin of the World. Sex defines their work. It lingers hidden, at times, beneath the fur and the flesh, but it’s always present.
Haas Brothers: Volume One, optimistically entitled, is a compendium of the twins that spans the beginning of their very new and very widely discussed career. It is a compendium in that it collects not only their artistic outpourings, that in a short amount of time have been prolific, but it includes their own words by giving their artistic insight into productions, exhibitions and other projects over the past four years. Towards the end of being a temporary catalouge rassione the publication visually succeeds, though as an artists’ statement…
Well, the artists expressing themselves in words has historically been spectacular or disappointing. It is, perhaps, just another fact. Very few artists (talking here, per capita) have expressed themselves well through the medium of words and a great deal have chosen to remain completely silent. Delacroix, Agnes Martin, and the aforementioned Carlo Mollino come to mind as visual artists who wrote well; there are other examples, but they are as disparate in time, disposition, medium and tradition as these three.
However, looking for great text by the twins isn’t a difficult task; they are excellent at responding in interviews and provide responses of great interest. Does the overwrought word, like a piece of jewelry, run the risk of falling apart if too finely wrought? Of course it does. And these brothers, as admirably prolific as they are, seem too driven by spontaneity for the very slow practice of words.
That said, who cares? Their work, being the ground floor of their fame — not words — is worth a look. And, if we consider this history of explosive eroticism, it is part of a long tradition that is difficult to work with if you want to create a meaningful dialogue because when it comes to sexuality it’s usually been done before.
Not so in the Haas Brothers’ work, though they had to slog through some of the more common tropes such as sexuality as an organic, visceral, slippery and somewhat oceanic experience (“My wife with sex of seaweed and stale sweets” – Andre Breton), they expanded, to my mind, in 2013 with their furniture design. These pieces took the form of large animals, often primal in their bearing with horns, reptilian legs and long furs, but they were created faceless.
Many have seen a “cuteness” in these pieces, but I disagree. The chairs, benches and sofas take on an amorphous creature-like form that makes me think of life from the first traces of blood, from the first feet that evolved from fins and fell flat upon the earth. And, beneath this primal mass of fur and surface, testicles — The Origin of the World, but an origin older than culture; it‘s the origin of our animal.
Their ceramic work is well represented; their Accretion series (all dated between 2013-2014) is thoroughly documented in the book. These pieces have a typical oceanic appeal and are, at first glance, like strange urchins that thrive in coral reefs, but their nature is more sexual and thrives on that primeval sense of the sea as the birthplace of the animal, where turmoil led to evolution through sex.
The Haas brothers’ use of glaze is, for this work, especially effective in evoking not only those urchins and other watery things of the sea, but also, with the use of a gold luster, in creating a doorway into an overt sexual commentary – into camp and a cultural expectation of eroticism.
Haas Brothers: Volume One offers ample examples of these works, but also the brothers’ ceramics, installations and drawings. The full-page images are well produced and there are even a few excellent process photos in black and white near the beginning and end of the book. If I have a gripe with the presentation of visual works its that there are many pages that present smaller images (sometimes taking up as little as a sixth of the page) opposite a full-page detail image. In a large format book like this one, one wants to see eye candy from edge to edge, but it is, still, only a slight defect.
Chris Johnson is CFile’s Book Reviewer.
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