KAWS at the Brooklyn Museum: A Coming-Out Party

Marshall McLuhan suggested that art is one you can get away with. Warhol, who was so expert in appropriations that the quote is often attributed to him, proved McLuhan right. Since then, many artists have accepted the idea as a personal challenge, draining its thrill appropriation. It has been predicted by entire fashion companies. People like what they know.

Brian Donnelly, 46, who has served as KAWS since the mid-1990s, felt it would end soon. He began colonizing walls and hoardings in his native Jersey City with his kinetic graffiti tag, spray painting paintings that alternate between jagged and bloated (the term “KAWS” has no deeper meaning; Donley chose the letters because he liked the way he was seen together). Somewhere along the way, he became heavily marketed, a favorite of street-art enthusiasts and high-octane collectors.

“KAWS: What Party,” a fast-paced and tight survey of Donley’s 25-year career, publicly opening Friday at the Brooklyn Museum, is fully titled. Donley is dominated by Kool – his Sultan sculptures guard the Midtown office lobby and waterfront condo and launch into space – so it’s somewhat surprising that this is his first major museum survey in New York, coming after the fact Is a party. Much of that delayed reception has to do with the thorny emotion his work instills, where the artist’s acid-colored output is considered the ultimate triumph of bad taste. That condition is probably overblown or at least incomplete.

The “Kiss Party,” curated by Eugen Tsai, contains a total of 167 items. It begins with Donley’s early road work, which is the most interesting to watch. In the late ’90s, he had landed on his visual language, trading in his lettering tag for a cartoon figure with x-ed out eyes and puffy crossbones, which he had fallen through his skull, which he called the phone booth and the bus Shelter had applied to fashion advertisements in New York. It was a less sour crime of the then Situationist critique popular among groups such as the Billboard Liberation Front, which replaced outdoor advertisements (for example Camel cigarettes) to reveal their treachery. Donley’s interventions are mostly apolitical, with some more specifically an extension of the desire for graffiti seen than anticapitalists.

They were also her Cannesi unknown collaborations, the faces of DKNY and Calvin Klein models by the artist’s own avatar. Where early graffiti stars relied on trains to take their names to public view, Donley felt the brands were a much more effective groove. His swollen portfolio of collaborative deals with billions of dollars of corporates may seem like a betrayal to his early work, but the idea of ​​”selling out” once considered by some members of Donley’s generation is worse than death, No longer applies. Seen today, these interventions look more like auditions.

The first excerpt in “What Party” since 1997 is its most instructive: an image of Keith Harring appearing in an advertisement on the subway as one of Donley’s cartoon slugs, slung over his shoulder, such as a note. Harring, who shared the goal of graffiti writers’ maximum exposure, wanted to make their art as democratically accessible as possible, and did so primarily through public graffiti, but the Pop Shop, where he Sold inexpensive replicas and totcoaches. KAWS’s project effectively pushes towards Haring’s delirium.

The world of KAWS can be horrifying, a bizarre version of our own by Donley’s cartoon appropriations – familiar but not, all with X where he should have his eyes, which in the cartoon tradition is a symbol of death, or at least of incompetence. Is the situation. The Simpsons, Snoopy and Smurfs are all here, swimming through a fugitive state that refuses to lift. Donley worked as an animator for a time, and his fluent lines and bright color are evident in cartoons, but his conceptual breakthrough came during his time in Japan around 2000, where he discovered “The Simpsons” Cultural Product Acting like an emotional Rosetta Stone.

Donley’s “Simpsons” work has been some of the most commercially successful and least altered from its source material, although Donnelly was not completely allergic to the formalist experiment: his “landscape” series, (created on canvas). 2001), four examples of which are here, a single “Simpsons” character was flown and cropped so that its characteristics are abstractly similar. They play with cool, cool color field painting and hard-edged ideas, recalling its sharp, clear shape and especially Al Held’s Alphabet picture In the 60s, which attracted advertising.

“The Party” is “KAWS Album” (2005), a version of the “Simpsons” gag, which offers a parody of the Beatles “parody of Sgt. Paper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album cover. (His painting sold at auction for about $ 15 million in 2019.) A liberal reading would be his ability to say something about how the resurgence of large-scale culture paintings makes him meaningless. At worst, it highlights the need for money tax.

Japan is also the place where Donnelly first encountered the otaku culture, whose followers have a hardened appetite for manga and anime, and to collect related idols that have become a kind of shadow market. He began to toy in his dealings with his enduring characters, the Companion, a skull-shaped figure with Mickey Mouse’s puffy mites and deformed belly but otherwise dipped in color; Chum, a Michelin man mutation; And BFF, who looks like a reggae, excommunicates Muppet. They have all proven to be progressively useful, being eight-inch vinyl and eight-foot fiberglass-sized, among other permutations. More and more often, they appear alone, in a state of objection and non-existent malaise, although sometimes they are pairs, such as “Gone” (201 (), a six-foot tall fellow a lame, cotton-candy colored BFF, a la Michelangelo’s Pieta, to an effect that is both dole and dope.

The cheerful, splashy language of animation can explain its appeal to young people with cognitive dissonance of heavy subjects who are natives of loneliness and oblivion and represent a large part of Donley’s true believers. His fans undoubtedly find the work register more delicious wrapped in a cartoon coating. (Sometimes, as in two examples, the side of a figure here is openly flared, a heavy metaphor for emotional risk). Companion work presents little friction. Instead of opposing the viewer, they offer solace, confirming their nihilism to be correct.

There is also a room dedicated to working to address the epidemic last year: “Insist”, a suit of 10 roughly square canvases, hands dangerously close to touching a face; “Different,” a sculpture of a fellow figure, collapsed in a heap with a face in his hands; And “Tide,” a painting of the Companion pervading the water moonlight body, possibly drowning. The paintings are shiny, with their rich pigments shining from within. But as a commentary on the present moment, and its staggering loss, they mostly feel perfect. His mood is morse but it is like that.

The “What Party” employs Donaldlee as a bridge between art, popular culture, and commerce, as if those places were separatist states and not symbiotic parts of a total machine of flattened taste, where cartoons and artists do everything from luxury Are to print interchangeable material. Goods for mass market sneakers. Donnelly has intersected at all points from Naik and Uniqlo to Comme des Garcones and Dior (the most frightening of these The chairs Done in collaboration with Estadio Campana: Plush toys covered in dreams of modernist fever). His superb participation in the art-fashion industrial complex, which imparts cultural pride to consumer products and is at a rare level of exposure to the artist, is not as much to his practice as it is to the point. It also decides to mount a KAWS exhibition less an act of courage than a sure thing.

The museum’s recent large-scale sculptures of Rotunda Donaldali have been given, including his “Holiday” project, a series of large-scale inflatable fellows that have been, for a kind of soft-powered good tour, over the years Have traveled around Asia, will be immersed. Located in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor and at the base of Mount Fuji.

It seems appropriate that a gallery of KAWS’s most monumental work should feed into a gallery-size gift shop, a monument to his business prowess. Seeing the shop as an extension of the show is not a stretch. This is the quality that makes people restless, making it all very bad. The art world likes to whisper its commercial qualities, its worst kept secret – what is an art gallery if not a store? Donley’s work is an attempt to make visible the hidden machinery of collective art, but the work’s strengths are also its weaknesses. Perhaps it was not Donaldeley’s plan to become a group.


KAWS: What a party

February 26 through Sept 5, Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn; 718.638.5000; brooklynmuseum.org. Tickets required on time in advance.

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