March 25 - May 27, 2023
From Lora Reynolds Gallery:
“Lora Reynolds is pleased to announce Snails in Comparison, an exhibition of new sculpture by fraternal twins Niki and Simon Haas—the Haas Brothers’ third project with the gallery. This is the inaugural show at the gallery’s new location, 1126 West Sixth Street in Austin.
The Haas Brothers are unveiling a group of sculptures of big, bizarre snails: their first endeavors in combining a material new to their practice—blown glass, which constitutes the gastropod’s soft bodies—with another medium they have known longer than any other: the snails’ shells are hand-carved marble. Two major events—the arrival of Niki’s first child, Fox, in 2017, and the self-imposed isolation Niki and Simon separately endured in 2020—led to a new understanding of what is most important in their lives. Snails in Comparison is a deeply personal reflection on that growth, and culminates in a freestanding, six-foot-tall, bronze portrait of Uncle Simon embracing his beloved nephew, Fox.
The snails’ bodies are candy-colored glass—bright pink, purple, aquamarine, yellow, orange, green—and cartoonishly anthropomorphic, with bugged-out eyes on long stalks, eyelashes, lips, tongues, hands, and sometimes a penis, a butthole, or a pair of breasts. Each figure carries its own expressive gesture—inquisitive, sleepy, grumpy, surprised, libidinous—and the marble shells’ wide variation in size, shape, coloration, and veining further define each creature’s distinct personality. The sculptures are ridiculous, hilarious, occasionally naughty, always heartfelt—and despite their novelty, feel right at home alongside the abundance of outlandish characters the Haas Brothers have been creating for the last ten years.
When Covid first hit, the Haases shuttered their studio and had to send their multi-talented fabrication team home. Niki, his wife, and their son did not even see Simon and his fiancé during this time, except on either side of a glass door. They missed being in the studio with each other and their chosen family—making, laughing, inventing, experimenting, feeling all together. Nostalgic about their pre-pandemic adventures, the Haases remembered a trip they took together to Portugal, where they found themselves floored by the lush and intricate stone carvings at Batalha Monastery. The church was under construction for more than 130 years before its completion in the 16th century. Most artisans who worked on the project knew they would never see it fully realized—and yet evidence remains that the laborers who gave their lives to this dream were able to find purpose in their grueling work. The Haases were struck by a small snail carved into the limestone walls—they were told it was a mason’s personal signature, a quiet assertion of something like, “I am here. And every day I will work to find meaning and beauty and comedy in this long, slow journey.” Niki and Simon Haas saw themselves in Batalha: not only did they identify with the Portuguese artisan’s sense of humor, they recognized his psychological plight in their own struggles with Covid (will it ever end?), and they began their creative lives shaping marble as children in their father Berthold’s masonry studio (where they learned stone is not only strong but also fragile—remember the fate of the Barberini Faun?). Their next body of work began to come into focus: they would make adorably ludicrous marble snails.
Not long after this epiphany, Niki and Simon spent a week in residence at Pilchuck Glass School in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. They were delighted to find glassblowing was much more of a community effort than they expected—and this was exactly the kind of experience they turned out to be seeking, after having to pause their normally bustling and jovial studio practice. Pilchuck’s glassblowing studio is thick with sensorial drama—it is saturated with a fiery roar, glows orange, the floor is strewn with chunks of cast-off glass, and despite being scorching hot, has a roof but no walls, so is often surrounded by sheets of chilly rain soaking its verdant campus. While in residence, the Haas Brothers had the help of Martin Janecký (a visiting master glass-artist), along with a team of experts, in realizing a sculpture they had designed. It took 14 hours of continuous labor to produce—dipping the end of a blowpipe into the furnace to gather molten glass, rolling the red-hot ball on a cool steel table, shaping it with wooden tools dunked in buckets of water or just a stack of wet newspaper held in a bare hand, reheating the form in a glory hole, adding more material, repeating. This craft requires both brute strength from a blower (to hoist a heavy lump of molten glass on the end of a long blowpipe) and the digital sensitivity of a pianist to spin the pipe with the tips of his fingers. Given the team’s constant motion and perfect coordination—often wordless—it seemed they could have been performing on a dance stage. In the final hours of production, a crowd gathered to watch the master craftsmen at work, cheering and applauding with each small, communal victory as the sculpture grew both more complex and increasingly likely to fail, fall, and explode. Simon said it was the most thrilling experience he’d ever had making anything—that it felt almost spiritual. And, no small coincidence: on the Pilchuck campus, in the woods north of Seattle, snails were everywhere. As the Haas Brothers’ resolve about their new body of work solidified, they realized their new snail sculptures would not only be made out of marble—they would have to be blown glass, too.
The absurd aesthetic that unifies this new body of work and the rest of the Haas Brothers’ oeuvre is largely inspired by what Niki and Simon saw and experienced as kids growing up in Austin. The Daniel Johnston mural off Guadalupe, Jeremiah the Innocent Frog, is a cornerstone of their visual language. The naughty tchotckes they found at Planet K and Oat Willie’s as teenagers are at least partially responsible for the ribaldry that peppers their practice—giving viewers a giggle and bumping them slightly off-balance, Niki and Simon believe, is the best way to encourage deeper engagement and a reconsideration of preconceptions. The epic (and stoner-adjacent) marquee mascots and neon signs of small businesses around the city—Mangia Pizza’s Mangiasaurus, the Terminix bug, Genie Express Car Wash, Thundercloud Subs, I Heart Video, the veiny bicep above Hyde Park Gym—are hugely nostalgic and inspirational for the Haas Brothers. Despite having lived in Los Angeles since 2007, their understanding of Austin will always be suffused with ideas of home and family and love.
And they see Uncle Simon, the six-foot-tall bronze sculpture of Simon hug-lifting his little nephew—represented by bipedal foxes, adult and child, with humanoid feet, legs, arms, and hands—as the central motif of both this exhibition and their real lives. Family is everything to Niki and Simon Haas. They kept themselves sane during the pandemic by reconceptualizing Covid as a gift: to spend time with the people they love most (even if on either side of a glass door) and to be present and attentive to the beauty of the journey rather than worrying about the when and where of their ultimate destination (which, sooner or later, is the same for us all). Inherent to glass and marble is an existential polarity: either can survive millennia—or shatter in an instant and be gone. We, too, are both thoroughly resilient and frighteningly fragile. And before 2020, few realized the whole world could come to a screeching halt before your best friend can gasp, “There’s a what on that snail??” Let these last few years, and the work from this show, serve as an eternal reminder: live, love—and dick jokes.
Born in Austin in 1984, twins Niki and Simon Haas live and work in Los Angeles. They have mounted solo exhibitions at the Bass Museum of Art (Miami), SCAD Museum of Art (Savannah, Georgia), and Katonah Museum of Art (New York). They have forthcoming solo shows in 2024 and 2025 at the Cranbrook Art Museum (Michigan), Museum of Art and Design (New York), and Nasher Sculpture Center (Dallas). The Haas Brothers have been commissioned to produce work for the Ace Hotel (Los Angeles), Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival (California), Gianni Versace S.p.A. (Milan), Lady Gaga, Maison Guerlain (Paris), Rihanna, and Rosewood Hotel (London). Their work is in the permanent collections of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum (New York); Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York); and RISD Museum (Rhode Island).”
Reception: March 25, 2023 | 6–8 pm
Conversation: May 11, 2023 | 6:30–7:30 pm
Haas Brothers in Conversation with Carter Foster
Lora Reynolds Gallery (West Sixth Street)
1126 West Sixth Street
Austin, 78703 TexasGet directions