The last time I can recall entering an art exhibit that completely transported me to another world, I think I was here, or even here. So, yeah, it’s been a while. I nearly missed Madonna — not the pop star, but the first solo exhibition of work by The Haas Brothers — at Marianne Boesky Gallery, but I made a special trip after work just a few days before the exhibit closed on October 26th, because I knew, if the photos I’d seen were any indication, that I’d regret not having the opportunity to experience this whimsical group of flora and fauna in person. Even better: I had the gallery all to myself!
Madonna, which is also the title of the central figure in the gallery, features a new collection of beaded sculptures, created at a wide range of scales, from the intimate to the monumental, as well as two large-scale sculptures made with Portuguese Pele de Tigre marble.
The amazingly fun exhibition captures The Haas Brothers’ increasing interest in exploring nature and spirituality as part of their deep commitment to material experimentation and traditional craft techniques, while also encapsulating their vision of collaborative artmaking. Since founding The Haas Brothers in 2010, brothers Nikolai (Niki) and Simon have been guided by a vision of creative experimentation, spurning perceived artistic boundaries and embracing instead the limitlessness of imagination and innovation.
In the signature spirit of The Haas Brothers’ presentations, Madonna truly immerses viewers into an otherworldly realm, where fantastical animals and odd hybrids reside. Here, colorful sculptures and objects that resemble futuristic creatures are positioned among seemingly rare tropical plants, and connected into a cohesive environment through undulating platforms. Being amongst these creatures felt like I was exploring a natural history museum populated with fairytale beasts!
The featured works capture the Brothers’ wide-ranging artistic processes, from intricate beading techniques to monumental stonework to the incorporation of woven elements, and produce an incredibly tactile and evocative experience. The exhibition also highlights the artists’ diverse collaborations, including with workshops in California, South Africa, and Portugal, and encapsulates their deep engagement and support for those working in traditional craftsmanship.
The Haas Brothers were first introduced to beading in 2015, when they met a group of women artisans selling beadworks in a craft market in Cape Town, South Africa. They were enamored with both the complexity of the technique and the incredible artistry in the women’s work. Seizing the serendipity of the moment, the pair established a collaboration with the artisans, which led to the development of the Afreaks series, a group of beaded creatures that were shown at the Cooper Hewitt’s Design Triennial in 2016. Since then, this collaboration with the collective of women, who warmly go by The Haas Sisters, has grown and matured.
For Madonna, the collective supported the production of the featured beaded objects, guided by The Haas Brothers’ preparatory drawings, using a selection of Murano glass beads produced in Venice between 1880 and 1980, which the brothers purchased after the factory became defunct. As part of their work with different communities and artisans, The Haas Brothers establish fair pay systems that include both economic support for the creation of works as well as, in some instances, profit sharing from sales. That’s amazing!
The beadwork in the exhibition is augmented by two sculptures made with Portuguese Pele de Tigre marble: The Madonna (above, which combines beadwork and carved marble) and the piece which is first visible upon entering the gallery, a partially-embedded stone palm (below) entitled Michelle O Palma. The Brothers first came to stone carving in their youth, learning from their father, artist Berthold Haas, and recently returned to the material. The solid, smooth, and monumental nature of the stone works provides a powerful counterpoint to the more delicate and finely detailed beadworks and highlights the range of The Haas Brother’s practice.
Here too, community proves an important element, as The Haas Brothers’ engagement has helped spur the development of stone-carving as an economic engine at the quarry that they use.
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