Yuki Terase, Sotheby’s Head of Contemporary Art, Asia, gave us some bullet points on KAWS works causing a stir in Hong Kong this weekend ahead of Monday’s sale at Sotheby’s.
Update: The KAWS Album sold for HKD115m ($14.7m) in Hong Kong on April 1st, a huge new record.
The KAWS market has been moving quickly over the last year. Nigo’s early relationship with KAWS means your sale has an injection of work from early in KAWS career onto a market suddenly craving KAWS. There’s talk among KAWS collectors that the top item in the sale, The KAWS Album, has the potential to significantly reset his market upwards. Why does this work have that potential?
- THE KAWS ALBUM is an early piece with one of the most complex compositions that the artist ever created on canvas. KAWS’s practice spans sculpture, street art, graphic and product design, and it is important to remember his formal grounding in traditional canvas work.
- This piece is particularly special not only because it is a painting commissioned by NIGO®. As the artist’s take on The Simpson’s The Yellow Album, this piece manifests as a ‘family portrait’ of KAWS’s whole host of Kimpsons characters.
- It is also interesting to note that The Simpson’s The Yellow Album was itself a parody of The Beatles’ 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Sgt. Pepper was lauded by critics for its bridging of popular music, high art and contemporary counterculture, and THE KAWS ALBUM follows in these legendary footsteps.
Your sale has a number of small Kimpson works that are grouped into in lots of two to five paintings. Is this how the works were originally bought or grouped? Do you think these groups will remain intact after this sale?
- The groupings were a curatorial decision that involved NIGO® and the Sotheby’s team, so we do hope that the buyers of these works will respect this special collaborative decision.
Everyone involved in the KAWS market says that the buyers in Asia are central to the rise in his market recently. What happened in the last two years that caused KAWS’s market to take off?
- Street art is currently undergoing the same transition that Pop Art made in the 1960s and 1970s. Originally at the fringes of mainstream culture, both genres gained recognition in the wider socio-cultural landscape and earned their positions within the art historical narrative.
- KAWS’s market started to take off in the last few years. In 2014, Sotheby’s NIGO® ONLY LIVES TWICE auction featured KAWS’s paintings, sculptures as well as toys alongside design and fashion pieces. Curated by NIGO® from his personal collection, the auction played an important role in bridging street art and culture with high art, fashion and design, and also opened up the market for KAWS.
- 3 years after that, KAWS’s survey exhibition at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth in 2017, which travelled to the Yuz Museum in Shanghai, helped to further boost the artist’s critical acclaim and popularity.
- Also worth noting is that KAWS’s creative career first began in Tokyo in the early 2000s with NIGO®’s help. So KAWS’s surging popularity in the region is less of an ‘Asian moment’ than a homecoming of sorts.