THE KAPLAN TWINS
Andy Warhol, a self-proclaimed “deeply superficial person,” believed that art could be defined simply as what you can get away with.
Lexi and Allie Kaplan—or The Kaplan Twins, as they’re known— cite Warhol as one of their primary artistic heroes, and they have put his words to the test in a more than symbolic way. I have to wonder how Warhol would feel, knowing that the Kaplan twins painted their ass- cheeks and sat—four cheeks total, big red and blue circles—on a portrait of his face? That piece sold for nearly $1000, I might add. Is Andy rolling in his grave, or looking down with pride? Perhaps both.
“Spread your legs wider!” Lexi instructs Allie, at their photoshoot turned impromptu art session. But this isn’t a porno or a gynecology appointment—in this case, it’s how a “Sit on My Face” composition begins for the Kaplan twins. The project, which the twenty-four-year-old twins first began in 2016, starts with the girls drawing images of famous cultural icons like Justin Bieber, Donald Trump, Kanye West, and Harvey Weinstein, and ends with them painting their rear-ends bright colors and, you guessed it, sitting on the various faces.
This is just one chapter in their sexy slew of provocative projects. The girls first gained recognition in the art world, and more importantly, Instagram, when they released oil paintings of screenshots taken from Kim Kardashian’s infamous sex tape with Ray J—widely cited (blamed?) for launching her into the spotlight. Kim clearly serves as more than an artistic muse for the girls: she has inspired their path to stardom. Like Kim, the girls use controversy to stoke the flames of their fame. Their joint- instagram says it all: 162K followers. But maybe it doesn’t say everything. The clever captions and polarizing photos disguise the fact that these girls are actively engaging in that age-old debate: is it art, or obscenity? A finely rendered oil painting is art, but what about a finely rendered oil painting of Kim K giving a BJ to Ray J? Like Justice Potter saying, “I know it when I see it,” it’s a distinction best left to personal opinion.
On the surface, the girls seem like your average LA reality-show types. Long blonde locks, perfect pouts, trim figures, flawless Valley Girl drawls (which is a little mystifying since they’re from New Jersey) and a supportive “mom-ager” with an overbearing talent rep to boot. But just like their art, you must look beyond the surface to understand the girls. When I sit down with Allie, the free spirited dreamer, and Lexi (née Alexa), the sophisticated and practical planner, I begin to realize that, as much as their joint account and previous interviews would have you believe, they are very different from one another. However, their opinions about their artistic intentions are one and the same. So much so that they often start and finish each other’s sentences seamlessly.
When we talk about how they integrate themselves into their art, Lexi begins, “We just want...” Allie finishes, “to open up a conversation and see where it goes.” Some may think this integration stems from narcissism, but others will see the marketing value behind it. By using their looks and social status to elevate their work, they elevate themselves. And by elevating themselves, they by extension, elevate their art. It’s truly a magical cycle.
The irony is that their latest collection, “Shit! I Just Spilled Kombucha On My Yeezys,” is a spoof on the social media in which they are embedded. The pieces riff off of millennial tropes like Tinder, nudes, and Bitcoin, to call out the absurdity of it all. Their stance might not be immediately clear, but by selecting trending subjects, they are effectively saying they’re worthy of discussion, which is a stance in itself. One piece spells out “Do it for the gram,” in front of the trendy, pink Paul Smith wall on Melrose. Allie reflects, “At face value that painting is funny, until you take a second and realize no one is visiting that wall because it’s a beautiful architectural building. They’re looking at it,” Lexi concludes the thought, “because they’re going to post it.”
When I point out the fact that they seem to be inseparable from social media themselves, Lexi insists, “I’d like to live in the moment.” But of course, if they don’t post about social media on social media, then the message would be lost, “like the tree that fell in the forest.” They may not be the radical art activists that this generation needs, but their approach to art is radical enough to effect change within their immediate art community. The two professional provocateurs have circumvented the “male dominated industry” that is ruled by elite galleries and inaccessible “high art.” Instead, they use a DIY approach to get accessible art to the youthful masses: “That’s why we like to make it relatable, because we don’t want it to feel like it’s inaccessible. Even if it’s at a price point, we don’t want the creative to feel out of reach.”
When asked what Warhol would do with an app like Instagram, the girls immediately concur: “Warhol would probably have over ten million followers on Instagram. He would own Instagram. Andy and Kim Kardashian would be really good friends.” Although the twins and many others may universally appreciate Warhol today, when he was reflecting on celebrity and consumer culture in the ’60s, he was viewed with much more contention. Similarly, The Kaplan Twins might not be fully appreciated during their time, but they’re redefining the role of artist for the next generation. The controversy that the girls’ work creates paradoxically keeps them in action: “Everyone discussing our work is what inspires us to create our next piece.”
Written by Tori Adams
Photographed by Yudo Kurita
Styled by Nicolas Amato
Hair: Amber Duarte
Makeup: Sara Tagloa