Artnet set out to 'uncover the powerful forces behind the craze,' have they identified them?
This commentary by Marion Maneker is available to AMMpro subscribers. (The first month of AMMpro is free and subscribers are welcome to sign up for the first month and cancel before they are billed.)
Getting the Kaws Market Right—and Wrong
Artnet released a look at the KAWS market late last week in a pdf report that the site says will “uncover the powerful forces behind the craze.” The report doesn’t quite live up to the hyperbole but it is a worthwhile place to start.
The report falls short in sometimes missing the significance of the evidence it cites. Take, for example, the nearly $2m sale of Clean Slate, a giant statue from 2014, that Artnet doesn’t tell us was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art, Fort Worth which has played an important role in KAWS’s entry into the ‘serious’ art world with shows in 2011 and a retrospective in 2016 that set the stage for 2018’s market super nova.
The report shines when it makes clear the sheer impact 2018 has had on artist’s market stature (try to ignore the mixed metaphor):
- “Last year, a switch seemed to flip. The steady burn that had characterized KAWS’s market for the past decade transformed into a full-blown inferno. In 2018, his work generated a total of $33.8 million at auction—a 260 percent increase from the previous year, according to the artnet Price Database. His average sale price also nearly doubled, to $82,063 from $42,272 in 2017. What’s more, all 20 of KAWS’s highest auction prices were set in 2018, including five that surpassed $1 million.”
The report also does a decent job of sketching out how KAWS got here from starting as a street artist to building a small empire of toys to expanding into canny partnerships in prints and, finally, paintings. But KAWS is hardly the first commercial artist to make the transition to becoming a ‘serious’ artist. Indeed, the parallels with Warhol are unavoidable. Though KAWS has greater leverage than Warhol did because his commercial art has fed directly into the value, prominence and critical interest in his ‘serious’ art.
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