The Brooklyn Museum presents:
KAWS: WHAT PARTY
the Artist’s First Major New York City Survey
On view: February 12–September 5, 2021
The Brooklyn Museum is the first New York institution to present a sweeping survey of KAWS’s career, from his roots as a graffiti artist to a dominating force in the contemporary art world, tracing common themes in the Brooklyn-based artist’s practice. Renowned for his paintings and sculptures of pop culture–inspired characters, as well as his playful use of abstraction and his meticulous execution, KAWS bridges the worlds of art, popular culture, and commerce while investigating our connection to objects and to one another. With a practice formed outside of orthodox art-world channels and rooted in graffiti art, drawing, and animation, KAWS has expanded access to his art by allowing the general public to purchase editions of his work and to interact with it digitally.
KAWS: WHAT PARTY highlights a range of works from the artist’s diverse career, including drawings, paintings, bronze sculptures, smaller objects, furniture, and monumental wooden sculptures of the beloved COMPANION character, as well as a selection of new and existing works that have never been publicly displayed. Throughout the exhibition, visitors will be invited to directly engage with KAWS’s work through Acute Art, an augmented reality app the artist has partnered with. In conjunction with KAWS: WHAT PARTY, a towering new sculpture by the artist will also be installed at Rockefeller Center’s historic plaza in summer 2021.
“The Brooklyn Museum and KAWS have been working together since 2015, and we’re excited to further that relationship by presenting his first mid-career survey in the U.S.,” says Eugenie Tsai, John and Barbara Vogelstein Senior Curator, Contemporary Art, Brooklyn Museum, and curator of KAWS: WHAT PARTY. “While participating in a cultural environment shaped by image and consumption, KAWS simultaneously emphasizes the constant presence of universal emotions in his work, such as love, friendship, loneliness, and alienation—an emphasis that is now more important and relevant than ever before.”
KAWS: WHAT PARTY highlights five overarching tenets of the artist’s evolving artistic practice. The first section brings together examples of KAWS’s earliest work, including graffiti drawings and notebooks from the early 1990s, on view for the first time in the United States. These works are accompanied by the artist’s early-career altered bus shelter and phone booth advertisements, which first brought him notoriety, as well as a collection of multimedia works that provide glimpses into his studio practice.
Throughout the exhibition, visitors are encouraged to engage with KAWS’s work through the use of an augmented reality (AR) app. Teaming up with the digital art platform Acute Art, KAWS presents augmented reality sculptures, allowing visitors to digitally interact with his art on their smartphones to create their own experience. Through AR, KAWS continues to expand his reach and connect with audiences on a global scale. As an early adopter of social media in the art world, he frequently uses platforms such as Instagram to share new projects and connect with his followers. And now, through AR, the public can bring KAWS’s work into their own world.
KAWS: WHAT PARTY also includes an integrated shop featuring the artist’s products, acknowledging the ways KAWS investigates the space between art and commodity. His exploration of this gray area draws on a rich history of exercises in commodification in fine art, namely Claes Oldenburg’s The Store (1961) and Keith Haring’s Pop Shop. In conjunction with the exhibition, KAWS is creating a new, monumental sculpture for Rockefeller Center that will be installed in the complex’s iconic plaza in August 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,” says EB Kelly, Tishman Speyer Managing Director overseeing Rockefeller Center. “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.”