Now a Market Star, KAWS Will Get a Survey at His Hometown Brooklyn Museum—Even Though It Initially ‘Didn’t See the Appeal’

The graffiti artist-turned-market darling is here to stay, apparently.

KAWS, THE WALK HOME (2012). Courtesy of Phillips.

KAWS, the street artist whose real name is Brian Donnelly, has long been regarded with skepticism from the art world. Now, however, one important gatekeeper is giving him a key. The Brooklyn Museum will organize a major survey of the artist’s work in 2021, the museum has confirmed.

The artist’s ability to navigate seamlessly between the mass market, streetwear culture, and the hallowed art industry “makes the art world uncomfortable,” Anne Pasternak, the director of the Brooklyn Museum, told the New York Times. She was cynical, too. “I didn’t see the appeal initially,” she said. “But artists love him. They all said, ‘Go visit him.’ And I’ve learned to listen to artists.”

This isn’t the first time KAWS has worked with the Brooklyn Museum, although it is the first time he has secured a major museum survey in his home city. In 2015, the museum mounted “KAWS: ALONG THE WAY,” an exhibition that featured an 18-foot-high wooden sculpture of his Companion character in the museum’s lobby (later gifted to the museum,) which then-director Arnold Lehman described in an email to artnet News as “THE place for group shots and selfies during the many months it was on view.” Earlier this year, the artist created a limited edition print to benefit the institution. (It also can’t hurt that Swizz Beatz is both a member of the museum’s board and a good friend and staunch backer of the artist.)

“KAWS: HOLIDAY” featuring Companion by US artist Brian Donnelly aka KAWS at Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong. Photo: Isaac Lawrence//AFP/Getty Images.

Meanwhile, KAWS’s hotly desired work is making frequent appearances at this week’s slate of auctions in New York. At Christie’s postwar and contemporary art auction Wednesday night, his 2009 painting KURFS (TANGLE) soared past its high estimate of $800,000 to reach $2.6 million. Tonight, both Sotheby’s and Phillips are offering cartoon-inspired canvases: at Sotheby’sKURF (HOT DOG) (2008), consigned by a private collector based in Hong Kong, is estimated at $1.5–2 million, while Phillips has both the Spongebob-themed THE WALK HOME (2012) for $600,000–800,000, and an ode to Snoopy estimated for $300,000–500,000.

KAWS’s world domination will continue in July, when the artist’s giant inflatable Companion is due to conquer Mount Fuji in Japan after appearances in Hong Kong and Taipei.

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