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The Surprising Ascent of KAWS

by | Mar 20, 2021 | Art

Brian Donnelly — better known as KAWS — with his BFF sculpture at 280 Park Avenue in Manhattan. 
Photo by Chris Buck for The New York Times
Brian Donnelly — better known as KAWS — with his BFF sculpture at 280 Park Avenue in Manhattan.
New York Times Magazine: Brian Donnelly, the artist better known as KAWS, went from tagger to blue-chip artist in more than two decades, blurring the line between commercial and fine art.⁣

@kaws started out as a graffiti artist in the ’90s, often appropriating recognizable cartoon figures from pop culture. In the last decade, his work has become an increasingly recognizable sight at major art institutions, though his embrace of popular media like streetwear and children’s entertainment has also marked him as a perpetual outsider within the elitist art industry.⁣

It was the $14.8 million sale of “The KAWS Album” in 2019 — a painting that depicts the cast of “The Simpsons” posed as if on the cover of a 1967 Beatles album — that made it no longer possible for the industry to dismiss him. The sale solidified this reputation. Yet the price of the painting, too, meant that he had become an emblem of all that was wrong with the art world: its absurd profit margins that favor shadowy collectors and deals, its abasement of creativity for the sake of selling out.⁣

“I’m sure he’s a super nice guy,” an art adviser named Josh Baer told Artnet News, but “If you think that Paris Hilton and the Kardashians are important cultural figures, then you’re likely to think KAWS is an important artist.” Bill Morrison, the former “Simpsons” illustrator whose work Donnelly appropriated, said he’d been “ripped off.”⁣

Despite the harsh reception, you could also make the argument that Donnelly is the most beloved contemporary artist alive today. Popularity is a difficult metric to gauge in the visual arts in particular, because there is such an enormous disconnect between the tastes of art critics and those of the general public — and between the art market and the rest of reality.⁣
⁣Link to read more about Donnelly, the art world and the artist’s place in it.
Photo by David Jacobs in 280 Park Avenue.

When you can’t get your employees back to the office, put @kaws in the lobby…

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