KAWS & effect: experience a pop culture phenomenon

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Please note: Images in this article were taken before current COVID-19 safety measures were in place.

11 May 2020: While we can’t visit the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) at the moment, you still have an opportunity to see the Kaws: Companionship in the Age of Loneliness exhibition online. It was due to end on 13 April, but because the gallery had to close its doors, the exhibition is still in place.  In the light of the current situation, when we’re still being urged to stay home, the theme of the exhibition takes on another layer of meaning, giving many of the works extra poignancy.

The following article and video were originally published on 3 October 2019

WATCH THE VIDEO: We met up with Brooklyn-based artist KAWS at his NGV exhibition featuring the likes of Mickey Mouse, Snoopy and Sesame Street’s Grover.

New Yorker Brian Donnelly, aka KAWS, is a global pop culture phenomenon at the intersection of art, music and fashion.

Once a graffiti artist, now his works are so hotly contested that one of them – a painting depicting characters from The Simpsons reimagined on The Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ 1967 album cover – recently went under the hammer for $22 million at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong.

The NGV’s exhibition – KAWS: Companionship In The Age of Loneliness – is an Australian-first and features over 100 works, drawing on his solo exhibitions at Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (2016), the Yuz Museum Shanghai and the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (2017) and the Hong Kong Contemporary Art Foundation (2019).

Using the universal imagery of cartoons and television shows, KAWS works are about connectedness and compassion, transcending nationality and language.

Just how much of an art chameleon KAWS actually is can be seen from his CV. He worked as an animator on Disney’s 1996 film 101 Dalmatians, designed a 1998 album cover for rapper Kanye West’s platinum-selling 808s & Heartbreak, created a massive Mickey Mouse helium balloon for the 2012 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and he has just released a limited clothing line with fashion label, UNIQLO, in conjunction with the NGV show.

Oh, and bring the young ones, too. Accompanying the main ticketed event, KAWS:PLAYTIME is a free kids show that KAWS has created, introducing youngsters to his artistic methods of integrating pop culture into his work.