It seems that the art industry can’t seem to get enough of KAWS, the artist whose birth name is Brian Donnelly, and who is best known for his Pop-inflected paintings and sculptures that riff on The Simpsons, Mickey Mouse, Sesame Street, and a spread of other pop-cultural sources. Indeed, in Art in America’s September issue, editor William S. Smith writes that “if there are art world gatekeepers intent on excluding [KAWS], it should be clear by now that they are fighting a losing battle.”
Now, the artist has attracted the attention of one of the world’s top curators: Germano Celant, who will curate an exhibition of KAWS’s work at the Garage Gallery in Doha, Qatar, in partnership with the Qatar Art Museums. The show follows another Celant-curated KAWS affair that was staged in Hong Kong earlier this year.
Celant is renowned for coining the term Arte Povera in 1967 as a way to describe the aesthetics of a group of artists working in Italy, many whom were using found and everyday materials in their work. Their art, Celant explained, could be seen as a response to Italy’s economic status in the decades following World War II.
Since then, Celant has held numerous curatorial posts, including serving as a senior curator at the Guggenheim Museum in New York for almost 20 years, working with the Fondazione Prada in Milan since 1995 (he is now its artistic director), and curating the 47th Venice Biennale in 1997. He has since gone on to pursue independent curatorial projects, some of which have been staged at Lévy Gorvy gallery in New York. Celant’s latest exhibition is a Fondazione Prada survey of the late artist Jannis Kounellis, who was closely identified with Arte Povera.
KAWS and Celant are connected by more than curatorial efforts. The two also crossed paths in 2017, when KAWS lent work by H. C. Westermann from his personal collection to the Fondazione Prada for an exhibition curated by Celant.
KAWS has had quite a year. In March, a 2005 painting by the artist, titled The KAWS Album, featuring a mixture of Simpsons-style characters arranged like the sitters in the album cover of the Beatles’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, sold for a record-breaking $14.7 million in Hong Kong at Sotheby’s. His previous record of $2.7 million had been set only a few months before at Phillips in New York. (The artist and collector is no stranger to besting past sales results himself—he has reset David Wojnarowicz’s record twice as a winning bidder.)
There has recently been controversy for KAWS, too. Yesterday brought news that protestors had taken to burning KAWS-designed merchandise being sold by Uniqlo after learning that one of the artist’s works, featuring a stylized caricature of Mao Zedong, was set to be auctioned next week at Sotheby’s Hong Kong. Also on deck for the artist is a career retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum that will open in 2021.