Friday, May 18, 2012

Low Art at the High

"Companion Passing Through", 2010, from KAWS is sitting on the Sifly Piazza at the entrance of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, an introduction to the exhibition "KAWS: Down Time". According to the artist, the gigantic grey fiberglass character is inspired by "The Thinker" from Rodin. The hybrid figure, with the iconic XX on the hands, appears miserable. Lonely and self-centered, he covers his eyes to escape reality, indifferent to his surroundings, lost in the courtyard.
Now 38 years of age, KAWS or Brian Donelly became famous a decade ago. Then a graffiti artist, he has moved on, from the street to the museum, where his work is represented with a large mural, paintings, drawings and toys for an exclusive exhibition curated for the High. Upstairs, CHUM, another well-known character inspired by The Michelin Man is standing high, inhibited, proud, like a modern Kouros (in keeping with the reference to Rodain). The museum proceeds with two large paintings bright and flat, directly inspired by graffiti. One cannot forget the background of KAWS. The paintings are aggressive in their colors, the subjects are benign and distracting inspired by a world of onomatopoeia "Splash", "Zoom", "Beep"... A room is filled with smaller paintings lined up along the walls, toys and small sculptures. Our inner child is satisfied, the well-known characters are just KAWSed and get a fresh look. But it is not a game anymore, in an adult world this is business: logos, limited editions, shoes, T-shirts, lightbulbs... Last time I checked the website, the items were sold out and I got alerted "protection, warning, do not copy the link to the site..."
Like Takashi Murakami and others, the pop artist has become a businessman.

The weird giant character is growing bigger and has been selected to float above the next Macy's parade, fourty feet long.

photographs by the author

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