KAWS is the biggest artist in the world right now; his fans and his detractors are legion. For his alter ego Brian Donnelly is unfazed. VAULT spoke to him about fame, appropriation and authenticity on the eve of his largest survey to date, KAWS: Companionship in the Age of Loneliness at the National Gallery of Victoria.

FEATURE by Alison Kubler NOV 2019

There are few artists as polarising as Brooklyn-based Brian Donnelly, aka KAWS. He is that most rare of artists: a household name, like Beyoncé. And this may in fact be his greatest sin in the eyes of the art world. He is unashamedly popular; in that sense he is the very contemporary evocation of ‘pop’. Pop Art in its original iteration spoke to an almost mawkish naivety: ‘Look, it is art made out of soup cans!’ Of course, Warhol’s collapsing of the sacred and profane was much more nuanced than that. It was arguably the logical endpoint for all art, proof that art is nothing but a commodity, too. And herein lies the KAWS dilemma. Because he sells. A lot. And a lot of people really do not like that.

The KAWS facts are innumerable. There’s the money: his ‘Kimpsons’ painting, The KAWS Album (2015), an appropriation of a Simpsons appropriation of the 1967 Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover, sold for $20.6 million at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong in April 2019. His many and varied collaborations (a roll call of megabrands from Dior and Comme des Garçons, to Uniqlo, Nike and Supreme)
and his catalogue of celebrity clients (Pharrell, Kylie Jenner, et cetera) all amount to a kind of meaningless list. When The KAWS Album sold, Donnelly took to Instagram and said, “What a strange morning… Do I think my work should sell for this much? No. Did I arrive at my studio the same time I always do? Yes. Will I do the same tomorrow? Yes. Have a good day.” .. Subscribe to read this article in full


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Art Gallery of New South WalesQAGOMA Northsite ACCA MelbourneGovett Brewster NGA