Simon and Nikolai Haas have an infectious energy. At just 30, the Los Angeles-based twins, known as the Haas brothers, have mesmerised the design and art worlds with their surreal aesthetic; one that knows few bounds. Their first solo exhibition in the US, 'Cool World' (named after the suggestive, live action/cartoon film directed by Ralph Bakshi), opens at R & Company in New York today and presents the culmination of two years work, including never-before-seen pieces.
Reimagining the gallery's slick Tribeca space especially for this show, the brothers have created an immersive dwelling for their fantastical creations. The walls of the gallery have been lined with pastel coloured ceramic vessels from the duo's 'Accretion' series, which are made using a glazing technique inspired by watching the build up of paint in a spray booth. Resembling hybrids of sea urchins, tree funghi and sexual organs, the delicate works are filled with latent energy, each extrusion as taut as hairs standing on end.
These set the scene for the twins' menagerie of anthropomorphic beasts, which go by names like 'Hairy J Blige' and 'Edward Fur-Long', and similarly blur the lines between sculpture and functional object. Presented in a dinner party setting, the creatures bypass their purpose as footstool, club chair and chaise longue, and evoke a naïve emotional response instead.
Returning to this unaltered, instinctual psyche is a crucial aspect of the brothers' work. Simon explains, 'We came out of the Internet and grew up watching cartoons. Anything that a kid watches has a huge influence on them and we don't want to take ourselves so seriously that we can't bring these childhood things into the fore. For us, that's what keeps us inspired.'
Apart from the surreal objects, the Haas Brothers have created paintings, drawings and prints that make use of cartoon imagery and expression to present their wondrous worldview. A series of these showcase comic critters enjoying hallucinogens while floating into space are presented in sculpted frames, like portals into an alternate universe.
'What our world represents is that everything should be a thought. It shouldn't be a learned behaviour,' says Nikolai. 'It's so easy to polarise things if you speak politically, like why should someone be able to tell someone else who they can have sex with, for instance. Or why California has no art class in public school and weed is illegal. It's a ridiculous idea and the morals come from a place that's a hundred years old, not nearly as evolved and smart-thinking [as we are today.]'
The concept of freedom is evident in the twins' 'Advocates for the Sexual Outsider' installation that they revealed during this year's Design Miami/ Basel. Designed to be entered alone, the private chamber is filled with sex toys, gender-neutral drawings of sexual acts and interactive sculptures that react to being cupped or fingered.
Simon says, 'We wanted to present sex in a non-threatening, non-pornographic way. Nothing is truly explicit. It's meant to be anti-shame. I come at things from a gay viewpoint and Niki comes from a straight viewpoint, and we tried to reconcile the two. Sex is there for everybody to experience and it's not something to be judgmental about.'
The show finishes off with a blackout room in the gallery's lower level where the glow-in-the-dark 'Animal Party' wallpaper produced with Flavor Paper for the latest edition of Wallpaper* Handmade, stands in all its glory. Humorous, disarming, sophisticatedly made and subversive, the Haas Brothers' universe is one intoxicating trip.