“Millennials are like gluten, nobody really knows what they are… but everybody loves to hate them” | A Conversation with the Kaplan Twins
The Kaplan Twins is an artist duo consisting of the identical twins Allie and Lexie Kaplan. They received Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees from New York University and are now living and working in Los Angeles. They started gaining frequent media coverage after their exhibition titled Make Me Famous in Los Angeles in 2016. The show consisted of fine art oil paintings portraying iconic moments in contemporary celebrity culture, such as stills from Hilton’s and Kardashian’s sex tapes, and Madonna and Britney Spears’ kiss at the 2003 VMAs. Perhaps with the same initial intentions as these celebrities, the twins also incorporated provocative nudes of themselves in the exhibition.
Through their art, Lexie and Allie have managed to pinpoint and embody the blurred lines between female empowerment, body positivity, artistic expression, sexual liberation and good ol’ objectification of the female body. Their paintings trigger millennial food for thought that, honestly, I still don’t always know what to make of. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what art is all about?
I called up Lexie and Allie to discuss these issues, as well as their upcoming exhibition in the Hamptons this July. It seems that the twins are trying to generate a different conversation with their latest collection of works, and I was curious to know what their thoughts were. And just as I anticipated, not only are Lexie and Allie two talented painters with a knack for social media marketing, they are also artists with an intelligent and thought out approach to their artistic practice. Keep scrolling to read our conversation about social media, provocation and summering in the Hamptons.
I feel like a lot of people are trying to contextualise, intellectualise and almost come up with excuses for the way you guys are conducting your artistry. Do you sometimes feel like you just want to make sexy art because it sells and that it isn’t more complicated than that?
Honestly, for us, we just want to make art that is super relatable and approachable, that can start a conversation, whichever way we lead into that conversation. Initially [we created] provocative stuff because we wanted to generate that conversation and we wanted to get people talking. We never tell people “this is how you should look at the art, or feel about the art.” It’s really just up to them. But that’s why it’s relatable, like the new stuff we’re doing now, I just feel like it’s very recognisable… you just get it. We want to make stuff that people can look at and relate to, and we leave it up to them to discuss it. We know the conversations we want to open up, but where it goes from there, that’s up to the viewers.
When you post stuff on Instagram, which pictures get the most likes and attention?
I think the pictures that get the most attention are the ones with us and our art. If we just post the art, it’s attention-grabbing, but if we’re in it and show that we’re a part of it, it gets even more attention.
A lot of artists today say that Instagram is a good way to get your art out there, but you shouldn’t let it dictate your artistic practice. Is this something you guys live by?
I feel like we’re doing the opposite in a way. A lot of the quotes that we have in our paintings are taken directly from Instagram. It’s a lot of asking our audience “what do you guys think would be a good quote for this,” and then having them give us some feedback. It is very much what we see on Instagram, and what we see is trending, and what people are talking about and paying attention to. I think it inspires us, but it’s not a driving factor.
So if you’d notice that one painting gets a lot of likes and the other gets very few, would you steer your art towards the direction that generates more attention on social media?
Not necessarily. It depends what the message is. For example, this one painting of Wonder Bread [with the quote “Millennials are like gluten, nobody really knows what they are… but everybody loves to hate them”] is really successful on social media, so we’re like ok, maybe we’ll do another painting with a longer quote, maybe it’s that we’re talking about millennials, or maybe it’s the juxtaposition of the two. It just depends. But we definitely look at it, and it opens the door for the next work, but I don’t think it’s going to change what we are doing.
Are you surprised yourselves at how easily sex sells? Because your art kind of shows that if you sexualise an object enough – even a children’s toy – people want to buy it. [In the Kaplan Twins’ social media performance piece titled Boy Toys, the twins bought stuffed action figure toys, posted suggestive pictures of themselves in bed with these toys on Instagram, and sold them for 333 USD each.] Isn’t that crazy?
I don’t think so. That was the direct point, to be like “look. Sex sells.” I think it’s so relevant. And it’s so apparent in a lot of our culture. We were just putting it in people’s faces, saying “it is what it is. pay attention to it, look at it, realise it.”
I think we did go into it knowing that it would have a certain reaction, but then it opens the door for so many different conversations.
During the second half of the 1900’s, there were so many artists that created a celebrity around themselves, like Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Yoko Ono, Basquiat. You don’t really see that anymore, at least not since the 90’s. Why do you think that is?
I think that art is the last creative outlet where people recognise artists as creatives. I think the art world became so in its own world, it became so unattainable.
Also, social media has opened the doors for everyone in a sense that they’re their own celebrity. I think that art is starting to catch on… if you show yourself as also the brand and the creative, and not just the objects, then you’re able to appreciate it more because I think everyone likes looking up to their icons or their creatives.
We always say if you were to go to a concert and not see your favourite musician or performer. If you weren’t to see them on stage, you’d just be in this huge stadium listening to music, like, what’s the point?
I think with art, and we always say this, with Keith Harring, Basquiat and Warhol, they were very much the face of their own art, people knew them as much as they knew their art. There are still some contemporary artists, like Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, people know who they are and they are super recognisable, but I think, not in our generation for some reason. And we’re working towards changing that.
Do you think that will change?
Definitely. I think it’s time for that change because there are so many talented, young artists, and I think that now we have social media as a platform to show ourselves and to show our work. We don’t need to show at a gallery. Of course, we love that we can show at a gallery because it’s another outlet, another place for us to show and sell our work. But I definitely think social media is so important.
You’ve painted screenshots from Kardashian’s and Hilton’s sex tapes, and naked nudes of various female celebrities. Is the sexualisation of the male body in the stars for you guys or do you think that will make your followers less interested, and cause the prices of your paintings to drop?
I just think that the male body isn’t something that I’m interested in painting at the moment. But I think, also, because we are female artists, it’s less sexualising and objectifying the female body and more talking about women… we want to empower women in a way, and say that you don’t have to feel ashamed to be naked and confident, just be yourself! So I think with painting men I don’t know if it would have the same effect if we would do that. It would definitely send a different message. So I think if we were to paint the male body, I would do it in like a fun way.
Like the woman who did the painting with the little Trump penis… I mean, that’s funny. It would have to be something along the lines of parody.
It feels like your art, especially your latest paintings are such an ironic commentary on today’s social media society. But… are they really that ironic? Because they’re also a very literal representation of our everyday lives?
I think some of them are more ironic than others, some of them are more straightforward. I think we look at them as what we would see on Instagram, like captions on photos. Some of them are kind of boujee, some of them are kind of poking fun at the ridiculousness of it all… I think they’re all poking fun in their own ways.
Yeah, but like, the Content painting, that’s not even that ironic or funny… that’s like literally what so much of our generation is about.
Right. Here is a painting that says “Content,” with no other image or photo or anything on it other than the word, which makes it the content itself. They will immediately stand in front of the painting and take a photo and then upload the photo on Instagram…
Tell me a little about your upcoming exhibition, what is it going to be about?
So it’s all of our new works… the show is called “I only summer in the Hamptons,” and it’s kind of bringing LA to the Hamptons scene. There’s a very specific crowd that kind of flock to the Hamptons, it’s a lot of New Yorkers and Upper East Siders. They’re very affluent, bougie… it’s everyone who is trying to get out of Manhattan. So we titled the show “I only summer in the Hamptons,” it’s kind of poking fun at the culture there while tying it into the rest of our art.
And what’s the connection between the title of your show and all the paintings?
So they’re all captions or things that are overheard in our generation and culture. They’re kind of these overheard sayings of these Instagram captions or these millennial icons and objects. Some are more specifically tailored towards the Hamptons, and some are just our take on what we thought would be a good fit, or just funny.
It seems like you’re trying to step away from nudity and sex in this new series of paintings while still keeping the theme of cultural commentary. Is that something you’re doing consciously?
I wouldn’t say moving away, but I think that each series that we do, and the reactions that we see, opens a door for us to create our next series. So I think with us, our underlined theme in all the work that we create has always been using social media, using a sense of celebrity, and generating a conversation around it. So I think that each series, they all kind of use that theme to connect, but each series has its own uniqueness and its own topic of conversation.
Lexie and Allie are onto something very thought-provoking in their art. Even after our conversation, I still feel like I’m left with more questions than answers. It would not be an impossible task to argue that the Kaplan Twins could be the poster girls for third wave feminism and sexual entrepreneurship. Their art is a perfect example of how women can take advantage of bodily capital to gain financial revenue in the true spirit of a sexual entrepreneur. Yet a prevailing scepticism towards the Kaplan Twins and their work’s capacity for critique is justifiable. Because while they challenge, ironise and bring problematic aspects of our society into the light, they are also guilty of reproducing the very structures and values their art might set out to critique.
The ongoing theme of sex and nudity, or use of lighthearted, banal imagery, can be seen as an efficient way to gain media recognition because ‘sex (and relatability) sells’, but it can also be seen as an intricate way to generate conversation about aspects of our society that might otherwise be overlooked. Just like Andy Warhol – who took something as mundane as Brillo Boxes and placed them in an artistic environment – The Kaplan Twins take pop cultural, millennial images that a large part of society is being exposed to on a daily basis, and present them in an artistic context. It triggers conversation, which, once again, isn’t that what art is all about?