A KAWS piece to be displayed at the museum. Photo: Brooklyn Museum.

In the last quarter century, Brooklyn-based artist KAWS has gone from graffiti artist to an icon in the contemporary art world, with works shown in museums and galleries around the world.

Now the Brooklyn Museum is set to present a wide-reaching exhibition celebrating the Jersey City-born artist’s achievements from his beginnings to now.

Brian Donnelly, known professionally as KAWS, is renowned for his paintings and sculptures of pop culture–inspired characters, many depicting the loneliness of modern life.

KAWS sculptures in Yuz Museum. Photo: Creative Commons

The KAWS: WHAT PARTY exhibit highlights a range of works from the artist’s decades-long career, including drawings, paintings, bronze sculptures, furniture and wooden sculptures of the iconic COMPANION character. The exhibition will run from Feb. 12 – Sept. 5, 2021.

A KAWS piece outside the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas. Photo: Library of Congress

Brooklyn Museum senior curator Eugenie Tsai said KAWS emphasizes the constant presence of universal emotions such as love, friendship, loneliness, and alienation in a culture shaped by image and consumption. “An emphasis that is now more important and relevant than ever before.”

The exhibition also features a selection of new and existing works that have never been publicly displayed. One example is graffiti drawings and notebooks from the early 1990s that are on view for the first time in the United States.

The exhibition will be divided into sections. The first section shows the artists earliest works and notebooks. The second shows his appropriation and abstraction of American cartoon characters, like the KIMPSONS.

The third is KAWS more recent work — including one new grand, introspective sculpture — which focuses on the current social climate, Brooklyn Museum’s Anne Pasternak said.

“KAWS’s new works speak powerfully to the isolation, fears, and grief of our times. It reminds us that there’s a universality to our suffering.”

The fourth section of the exhibition highlights KAWS collaborations with other designers and brands in fashion and industrial design. KAWS’s artworks are highly sought-after by collectors both inside and outside the art world. The final part of the exhibition focuses on the KAWS’ COMPANION figure

In conjunction with the exhibition, KAWS is creating a new, giant sculpture for Rockefeller Center that will be installed in the complex’s plaza in Aug. 2021.

“We are thrilled to bring the magic of KAWS to Rockefeller Center, and to extend the footprint of the Brooklyn Museum’s groundbreaking exhibition with this commission that was conceived for the Center,” Tishman Speyer’s EB Kelly said. 

“The Center has long been a platform for public art, and we are especially proud to welcome KAWS, a true New Yorker who is inspired by our city. We believe that KAWS’s new work at Rockefeller Center will instantly become the talk of the town.”

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Jessy Edwards

Jessy Edwards is a freelance writer based in Bushwick. Originally from New Zealand, she has written for the BBC, Rolling Stone, NBC New York, CNBC and her hometown newspaper, The Dominion Post, among others.

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