If you told art critics and collectors in the 1950s and 1960s that the cartoon creations of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein would some day be part of the permanent collections of major museums around the globe, many would have scoffed. The same can be said, in the twenty-first century, of the works of graffiti artists like KAWS and Takashi Murakami, yet their works are entering the mainstream with surprising speed and gusto.
Brian Donnelly, who has used the KAWS tag since his early days, when he took the train from his New Jersey home to Manhattan, to put his work up on the sides of phone booths. These days, KAWS has two studios in Brooklyn, partners with Uniqlo and Dior, and has a staff of assistances. He is married and the father of two young children. “I had to have kids just to make it not seem weird,” Mr. Donnelly joked in a recent New York Times interview.
KAWS at Auction
The recent record sales of KAWS paintings at auction were way over estimated prices. His Sponge Bob Square Pants painting sold for $6million….ten times the initial estimate of $600,000…and $14.8 million for his album painting at Sotheby’s, a Simpson’s version of the Beatle’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band cover.
The way Scott Nussbaum, head of 20th Century and Contemporary Art in New York at Phillips Auction House, explains it, “The early attention to his work came from younger, emerging buyers from Asia. But now we’re seeing older, established collectors from the United States and Europe walking into our galleries and asking to see the KAWS as well as the de Kooning.”
Like Pop Art, KAWS has universal appeal and bridges the gap between commercial and fine art. KAWS characters, with XXs for eyes, have a tender, sensitive appeal. They’re recognizable and and have a special appeal to the many millennials who are showing up at auctions in New York and Hong Kong.
KAWS at the Brooklyn Museum
It’s been almost twenty years since KAWS evaded police and tagged his paintings on the street. He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in illustration from the School of Visual Arts in New York, did some traveling in Japan and settled down in Brooklyn to live and work.
Though his works have been shown in major venues around the world, the nearby Brooklyn Museum, like other art institutions, have been cautious about giving shows to artists who have mass commercial appeal. That will change in 2021, when the Brooklyn Museum will have a show of KAWS work. KAWS currently has a show at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit. KAWS: Alone Again will be on exhibit through August 4, 2019.
KAWS at VFA
Ted Loos. XX Marks the Spot: KAWS Goes Global. The New York Times. March 15, 2019.
Caroline Goldstein. Now a Market Star, KAWS Will Get a Survey at His Hometown Brooklyn Museum—Even Though It Initially ‘Didn’t See the Appeal’. Art net News. May16, 2019.
Scott Reyburn. Contemporary Art Evening Sales Bring $981 Million, Led by Koons and KAWS. The New York Times. May 17, 2019.
Helen Holmes. Why a Painting of spongeBob SquarePants Just Sold for $6 Million. The zxsawObserver. May 17, 2019.
Jonathan Sawyer. KAWS’ “Alone Again” Exhibition Opens at Detroit’sMuseumof Contemporary Art. May,14, 2019.