KAWS: What Party

Phaidon. Nov. 2021. 256p. ISBN 9781838663940. $59.95. FINE ARTS
In a career that can be characterized as brilliant, Brian Donnelly (b. 1974), a.k.a. KAWS, has challenged the art world to consider the relationship of art and popular culture. Inclusivity and accessibility have been at the core of KAWS’s public art from the early graffiti and billboard “interventions” to his monumental sculpture and environmental pieces. This catalogue documents and expands on the 2021 Brooklyn Museum show, immersing readers first in photos of the artist’s work. An essay by Brooklyn Museum curator Tsai follows, exploring the evolution of KAWS the artist, his signature skull and crossbones, his iconic characters, and the impact of a 1997 trip to Japan. There, the ubiquitous and “universal language” of cartoons inspired a series of paintings and figures that referenced American pop culture icons and led to the production of toys, clothing, furniture, and other branded items. In another essay, critic Birnbaum discusses art and commodity culture, KAWS’s phenomenal recent work in augmented reality, and the unlimited potential of “new forms of public art.”
VERDICT A beautifully designed, abundantly illustrated book that probes the dynamic intersection of art, popular and consumer cultures, and technology in the work of this important 21st-century artist.
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