Brooklyn-based artist Brian Donnelly, better known as KAWS, has forged his own distinct path through the art world for the past 30 years. An interplay of fine art, popular culture, street art, advertising, branding, graphic design, and fashion, KAWS’s multidisciplinary practice defies simple categorization. In his Canadian museum debut, KAWS invites us to consider the concept of family. Family can be something we are born into, something we choose, or something we create. The KAWS family of figures—with features he appropriates from the pop-culture zeitgeist—recur throughout his paintings, drawings, small-scale figurines, and larger-than-life–size sculptures. Though not quite human in form, these figures express a range of human emotions and pathos in their gestures and poses—from companionship to loneliness, from melancholia to unbridled joy. The cast of characters that populate the KAWS universe speaks to the complex reality of life in our contemporary world.
KAWS: FAMILY invites visitors to explore the multi-dimensional creativity of American artist Brian Donnelly, aka KAWS. Renowned for his larger-than-life sculptures and paintings of iconic characters steeped in the American zeitgeist, KAWS mines popular culture to produce meticulous and exuberant artworks that investigate our connection to objects and one another. Marking the artist’s first museum presentation in Canada, KAWS: FAMILY is curated by Julian Cox, the AGO’s Deputy Director and Chief Curator, and is organized by the AGO.
Featuring more than 70 artworks from the past two decades, the exhibition is organized as a series of encounters, with families of related artworks installed across Level 2 of the museum, including larger-than-life wood sculptures and augmented reality installations in Galleria Italia.
“KAWS reminds us that art can be many things at once – priceless, useful, commercial, beautiful, familiar, thought provoking and funny. Like Warhol and Haring before him, KAWS welcomes the viewer with forms that are immediately identifiable, and having caught our attention, confounds with his nuance, pathos and technical skill, encouraging us to consider what is companionship, what is family, what is our relationship to objects,” says Julian Cox, AGO Deputy Director and Chief Curator. “We are very proud to be the first Canadian museum to present KAWS – an artist whose commitment to accessibility and creative play is as strong as our own.”
Working in bronze, wood, on paper and canvas, with plush toys and stainless steel, KAWS’s art is populated by a cast of reoccurring figures, whose shapes were born out of his early interest in collectible toys. Adapting features from popular American cartoons, these figures are at once playful and serious, and in their various poses, forms and sizes, explore distinctly human emotions — ranging from loneliness and anxiety, to grief and joy. The centerpiece of the exhibition is FAMILY (2021), a painted bronze sculpture featuring COMPANION, a figure with crossed out eyes inspired by early American rubber hose animations, a bulbous figure named CHUM and a fur-covered character named BFF, posed together in the style of a studio portrait.
A selection of shoe designs, cereal boxes, album covers and a loveseat composed of plush toys made in collaboration with the Campana Brothers showcases KAWS ongoing engagement with commercial design and fashion brands. Rejecting the idea that art is limited to the museum, these mass produced works share the same dedication to bold colour, strong lines, and adaptation that his paintings and sculptures do, and have helped KAWS gain a large and dedicated global following.
Produced in collaboration with Acute Art, a research hub and curatorial laboratory providing artists access to cutting edge technologies, the two augmented reality artworks installed in Galleria Italia, will allow visitors to interact virtually with KAWS sculptures using their smartphone.
Admission to KAWS: FAMILY is open to the general public now and the exhibition runs until March 31, 2024. For more details on how to book your tickets or to become a Member or Annual Passholder, visit AGO.ca.