Raising the bar in the art world

Bring on the gimps: the Hilton boys at work
The Hilton Brothers

The Hilton Brothers, who taught Andy Warhol all he knew, are taking Dublin by storm

Bursting into song in posh restaurants to the shock and horror of fellow diners, or walking about in ridiculous matching outfits, certainly gets the Hilton Brothers attention. Don't be fooled, though, because this artistic duo isn't just about performance in the public setting.

And while the pair often refer to the infamous Paris and Nicky Hilton as "our trashy sisters," they are definitely not their elder siblings. In fact, they're not brothers at all but two New York artists otherwise known as Christopher Makos and Paul Solberg. Their moniker was, however, inspired by the Hilton sisters, a name which was already established in contemporary culture. "The name was international but also associated with the totally mundane," Makos explains. "Our life is our art as much as what we put on paper. We like to have fun with identity to amuse ourselves, and thus amusing others."

The Hiltons were in Dublin earlier this week for the launch of their first Irish show at the Sebastian Guinness Gallery, an exhibition of 19 diptychs, one half a stunning flower image, and the other half, a re-thinking of the traditional horse portrait. The show brings together two bodies of work: the 'Andy Dandy' and 'Hippofolium' portfolios which, they say, is their response to the turning upside-down of American popular culture.

"American culture is going through a huge cultural flux, a response to eight years of corruption from a divisive leader," says Makos. "When we created the Hilton Brothers in 2004, American culture was at the height of banality, with America's desire to escape humourless times, like during all war times. Our intention is not to remark on this social and political paradox in our work, but to respond to it. We try to make beautiful things on paper."

Makos grew up in California and later studied architecture in Paris, before becoming an apprentice to Man Ray. His photographs have been exhibited all throughout Europe, the US and Japan, and he is a central figure in the contemporary art scene in New York. He is also famous for his collaborative work with Andy Warhol, and was actually the person who showed Warhol how to use his first camera. Solberg, formerly an anthropologist, film-maker and screenwriter, is renowned for his flower photographs.

"Art doesn't have to be cynical, especially during these times," says Makos. "We produce works that are primarily based on the traditional notion of beauty, with a touch of conflict." Like Solberg he is concerned about the current trend for the 'dumbing down' of popular culture, and the cloning of icons who the 'brothers' describe as having "blonde hair, fake breasts and being underweight."

"The standard of what is considered interesting or culturally viable needs to be questioned, with a hope to raise the bar," says Makos. "America exports few things. Entertainment is one of them, and in recent years the standard has dropped below freezing."

As for gadding about Dublin in matching outfits, have the pair any plans while they're here? "We're happy artists," Makos laughs. "We're not going to allow an increasingly cynical world to corrupt us. But we hear the Irish don't need help with happiness."

The Hilton Brothers are showing at the Sebastian Guinness Gallery, Temple Bar, Dublin until 1 November