25 years of KAWS at the Brooklyn Museum

The author, an artist and fashion designer, framed by a collage of KAWS’ works. Photos by Atreyu Dizon

By Tracy Dizon

Once again, the Brooklyn Museum and Brooklyn-based artist KAWS (American artist Brian Donnelly) worked together to give us another influx of great American Street Art that spans 25 years and transcends a wide range of cultural spectacle from graffiti art, cartoons, toy culture, fashion, sculpture and even furniture design. KAWS: What Party is on display from February 26 to September 5, 2021.

For those who want to explore a modern-day art inspiration from the city that cradles the richest street culture — New York — checking out KAWS: What Party is one exhibit I highly recommend. This summer is a good time to visit especially coming out of a very long isolation during the pandemic. As the city is starting to open up slowly, art is always a good activity for leisure, inspiration, and just to see something fresh and new to the eyes. A fresh break from staring at our computers and gadgets for a change!

KAWS has been known for that “x_x” cartoon-like characters. Even if you are not in tune with the latest street art, you will realize that you have seen KAWS’ work at toys stores, on t-shirt prints or even his appropriated cartoon adaptation. I personally appreciate this kind of art — a pop culture phenomenon! KAWS’ signature style is so familiar that I feel it is so inclusive of different people. Everyone can appreciate it. The exhibit is presented like one is walking through KAWS’ journey as an artist.

KAWS: What Party was curated with seven chapters (including the souvenir store!) of his career. Let me give you a walk-through of what to expect from the exhibit.

PART 1: KAWS Earliest Works

I personally love witnessing the humble beginnings of any artist, KAWS especially. Witnessing his early sketch pad of art studies and graffiti drawings always has this inspiring nudge effect on me. “Everybody starts somewhere.” And that motivational reminder that everyone who made it big also started from the beginning and bloomed into an impactful artist.

PART 2: Naive Art

The second part of the exhibit was mainly his Japanese influences and that’s when his love for cartoons started to surface into his works. I, being the NHK World Japan’s Kawaii International last appointed Kawaii Ambassador, can totally relate with the wonderful world of Japanese street culture. It’s something that really aroused my interest with KAWS’ evident influences. I could relate when KAWS mentioned that he does not speak Japanese but he was able to communicate relatable icons like The Simpsons. Cartoons has that cultural appeal to the world because we were all young once in our lives!

PART 3: Cartoon Appropriation

The third part of the exhibit explores that appeal of cartoons to KAWS market and audience. He explored appropriating a variety of popular cartoon culture. This is where I get to admire his artistic views in trying to communicate the familiar figures that totally embrace pop culture.

Part 4: KAWS explores human emotions.

PART 4: Introspective Art

This section of the exhibit is where it gets deep. This is where KAWS started to ponder human relationships, emotions, and states of mind. I personally just knew about KAWS’ pop culture impact at first. It is a delightful chapter to see how his works get reflective and personal over time.  

PART 5: The KAWS Collectible Collaboration Phenomenon

It is every artist’s and creator’s dream to reach a marketing peak like KAWS. From highly collectible sought-after toys, sneaker shoe limited edition collections, skateboards, up to that iconic furniture design created in collaboration with Brazilian designers Humberto and Fernando Campana. This is where KAWS spreads his genius. It is quite admirable when art is highly regarded and also becomes a commercial success being one of the most highly collectible brands.

PART 6: KAWS’ Gigantic, Monumental Works

Having reached his artistic peak, one wonders how else can KAWS grow and develop? Well, he literally did. From little, hand-held toys, his works expanded into art installations and parade balloons! KAWS’ latest medium is AR — Augmented Reality – a kind of computer-generated image or information! KAWS really has been growing to become The Present-Day Pop Art Empire!

Part 6: Life-size art.

PART 7: Shopping KAWS

Entering the exhibit, I noticed some written reminders about limiting purchases to two items per exhibit guest. I became curious. Didn’t they want to sell out all their merch? Soon enough reaching the end of the KAWS: What Party Exhibit, I learned why. You cannot access this souvenir store without passing through the entire exhibit and you cannot do a repeat round! So strict, huh? I found out that the KAWS Merch are almost sold out with the collectible figures and some books! Upon researching for this article, I was so surprised that KAWS Merch is selling double the original price. As a fashionista shopaholic myself, I was really intrigued! One way or another, you should not miss this part about being able to bring home a little piece of KAWS!

Come to the Brooklyn Museum but do make sure you book your tickets online. Do plan your visit and check https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/ for tickets and more details!

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