Straddling the world of both high art and consumer culture, the artist’s auction record was shattered when a 2005 painting, titled THE KAWS ALBUM, sold for HK$115.9 million ($14.8 million) at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong—nearly 15 times the high estimate and more than five times his previous record of $2.7 million, which was set just last year.
In less than 10 years, graffiti artist turned blue-chip darling, KAWS (Brian Donnelly) has become a household name with his cartoonish iconography, gigantic sculptures, collectable toys and vibrant paintings. Straddling the world of both high art and consumer culture, the artist’s auction record was shattered when a 2005 painting, titled THE KAWS ALBUM, sold for HK$115.9 million ($14.8 million) at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong—nearly 15 times the high estimate and more than five times his previous record of $2.7 million, which was set just last year.
With a background in street art, KAWS perfected his practice by defacing billboards around New York City, since then the prolific artist has gone on to collaborate with a multitude of brands including Dior, Marc Jacobs, Uniqlo and Comme Des Garçons, amassing over 2.7 million followers on Instagram along the way. It's safe to say the cult of KAWS is well and truly happening - which is why we've rounded up a few reasons below that outline why this artist is one you should consider investing in.
Last year, KAWS made headlines when demand for his work reached a new level at several international auction houses. Estimates were exceeded for several of his most recognised pieces, including the 2005 painting recreating ‘The Yellow Album, The Simpsons’’ take on the Beatles’ famous 1987 album cover for ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, which replaced the original figures with characters from the animation series. This parody of a parody sold for HK$115.9 million ($14.8 million), nearly 15 times the high estimate at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong. The 2019 Artnet Intelligence Report reports that in 2017 his average sale price almost doubled, from $42,272 to $82,063 and in 2018, KAWS' work achieved over $33.8 million at auction.
KAWS is seen as the enfant terrible of the New York art world. Many have compared him to Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, whose own inimitable styles started out on the street, as well as Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons, who both had an instinctive understanding of the possibilities of art in the age of mechanical reproduction.
Rejected by the art elite and shunned by traditional art critics, KAWS’ mass appeal continues to divide. “I’m sure he’s a super nice guy and a great businessman." said art advisor and publisher Josh Baer, “but I don’t think that the history of art will go: Matisse, Pollock, Johns, Basquiat, KAWS. If you think that Paris Hilton and the Kardashians are important cultural figures, then you’re likely to think KAWS is an important artist.”
In 2012, KAWS created a scene-stealing 14-foot balloon for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade which appeared alongside iconic characters such as Mickey Mouse and Sonic the Hedgehog. Demonstrating proof of KAWS' talent at transforming art into a spectacle for mass consumption, the inimitable artist has disrupted the art scene by breaking down the barriers between 'high' art and 'low' art.
His landscape changing Land Art has also been applauded by art critics and curators, particularly his "KAWS: Holiday" project, for which the artist installed a 37-meter sculpture of one of his "Companion" figures in locations around the world. "I've always been interested in public art," the artist says. "A lot of the reason of how I make work is about communication, it's about creating a dialogue with the viewer, and putting work out there they weren't expecting to interact with that day."
From designing Kanye West's album cover to working with cult streetwear labels A Bathing Ape and Supreme, KAWS has solidified his iconic status by undertaking a series of carefully considered brand collaborations. The result has led the artist to be aligned with a number of luxury and popular brands, captivating an even wider audience.
In 2019, Dior designer Kim Jones debut his Spring/Summer 2019 collection with a 33-ft tall pink flower sculpture of KAWS's 'BFF' character as the backdrop to the Paris Fashion Week show. On collaborating, KAWS says: "Companies are good at different things, and I want to learn about those things, how they work and how they disseminate into the world, and have my work enter the world through those same channels."