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Stunning Photos of the New Brooklyn What Party Kaws Show

Stunning Photos of the New Brooklyn What Party Kaws Show

Our correspondent Jillian Tangen spent the day experiencing first hand with her family the new KAWS show at the Brooklyn Museum, an exhibit of artist Brian Donnerly and his eye-catching pop culture sculptures, painting and printmaking. Here are her stunning photos of the new What Party Kaws exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum.

Kaws What Party at the Brooklyn Museum

kaws exhibition Brooklyn Museum

The new pop culture art at the kaws exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, NYC, including sculptures and paintings: The News. Courtesy Photo.

For the past two decades, the street artist Brian Donnelly (better known as KAWS) has made a name for himself creating eye-catching sculptures.  Large and small, his anti-heroes, Companion (a Mickey Mouse style figure) and Chum (an appropriation of the Michelin Man), appeal to viewers of all ages.  Over the past several years KAWS has slowly begun popping up everywhere, from the Seagram Building on Park Avenue to Justin Beiber’s Instagram and even in collaborations with Dior and Uniqlo.  And as of last week, his work is at New York’s Brooklyn Museum.

kaws exhibition Brooklyn Museum

The kaws exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, NYC: The Lobby. Courtesy PHoto.

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kaws exhibition Brooklyn Museum

The new pop culture art at the kaws exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum NYC, including sculptures and paintings: Man’s Best Friend. Courtesy Photo.

The first major retrospective of his 25+ year career, KAWS: WHAT A PARTY, traces the artistic journey of Donnelly, an ex-graffiti artist and animator turned painter and sculptor.  Often overlooked and dismissed by critics, his work as KAWS has earned him a widespread following. Often colorful and playful, his work straddles the line between fine art and popular culture, crossing the mediums of painting, sculpture and printmaking, along with highly sought after fashion, merchandise and vinyl toys.

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We had a chance this week to check out the colorful new exhibition of the artist that’s caught the attention of everyone from children to Kim Jones, Pharrell and Jay-Z.  From giant sized Companions to KawsBob and Gumby, here’s what we saw.

kaws exhibition Brooklyn Museum

The kaws exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, NYC: The Collaborations. Courtesy PHoto.

Photos from Kaws What Party at the Brooklyn Museum

Curated by Eugenie Tsai, WHAT A PARTY features just 167 objects in total.  Among the first you meet are the two towering Companion figures inside the museum’s lobby. They act as a preview, not to mention social media catnip, for visitors.  Make your way upstairs to the fifth floor to the gallery’s entryway and you are greeted by a new pink sculpture aptly named “What a Party” (2020). It is to be installed at Rockefeller Center’s plaza later this year.

The kaws exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, NYC: What a Party. Courtesy PHoto.

The exhibition is split up into five sections and begins with Donnelly’s early street work from the 1990’s.  You’ll find his lettered tagging, notebooks and the first iterations of a cartoon figure with X-ed out eyes and puffy crossbones plunged through its skull, applied to fashion ads in phone booths and bus shelters around New York.  Interestingly these works are available only because of Donnelly’s own documentation of this time. They provide a fascinating record of New York in the late ’90s, a time when the streets were full of high-profile ad campaigns.

The new pop culture art at the kaws exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum NYC, including sculptures and paintings: Companion. Courtesy Photo.

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Donnelly is probably most well known for his appropriation, alteration and abstraction of characters. There are popular American cartoons like the Sesame Street characters, Snoopy, the Smurfs and SpongeBob SquarePants. They all are included in the second section of the show.  It is there that you get a chance to view one of Donnelly’s most high profile pieces, “The KAWS Album” (2005).  It’s a version of the “Simpsons” gag, which is itself a parody of the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album cover. The painting sold at auction for nearly $15 million in 2019 to an undisclosed buyer.

The kaws exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, NYC: The Kimpsons. Courtesy PHoto.

even more highlights from kaws

A stroll past numerous variations on Companion, Chum, Snoopy and Elmo brings you to some of Donnelly’s most recent work.  While much of his Companion work exudes childlike innocence, his latest iteration depicts the sadness, grief, anxiety and isolation that 2020 brought.  A sculpture of Companion dubbed “Separated” (2020) is found seated with his head in his hands, seemingly weeping.  Behind him are a series of paintings known as “Urge” (2020) that feature colorful hands reaching out over Chum-like characters.

The new pop culture art at the kaws exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum NYC, including sculptures and paintings: Separated. Courtesy Photo.

Off the same room, nestled in a blue painted back gallery is “Tide” (2020), a large canvas showing what appears to be the Companion drifting in the ocean.  If these pieces don’t honestly sum up everyone’s feelings about 2020 and the pandemic, then we don’t know what does.

The kaws exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, NYC: The Tide. Courtesy PHoto.

Next up on the exhibition was a much appreciated dose of levity.  Throughout his career, Donnolly has collaborated with numerous high profile designers, blurring the boundaries between populist and elite art.  You’ll find a selection of sketches and furniture made with plush toys. They are produced with Brazilian design studio Campana Brothers, as well as toys, skateboards, sneakers and other products. It is made together with the likes of Dior, Vans, Disney and Supreme.

The new pop culture art at the kaws exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum NYC, including sculptures and paintings: Early Kaws. Courtesy Photo.

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photos kaws Brooklyn Museum

The final section of the show is an immersive experience that transports you directly into KAWS’s world. In this last gallery, curators cleverly juxtapose companion figures from Donnelly’s “Holiday” project (2019) with never-before-seen cinematic short films. It includes a virtual installation in outer space before you are led to a very fitting gallery-size gift shop.

Just one week after the exhibition’s opening, it was slim pickings, though. Much to my kids’ disappointment, earlier visitors had already purchased most of the toys, figurines and clothing.

The new pop culture art at the kaws exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum NYC, including sculptures and paintings: Holiday. Courtesy Photo.

While some critics have been quick to dismiss KAWS as “conceptually bankrupt,” having finally seen his work up close, we disagree.  Donnelly’s work is full of unexpected nuance.  While consumption and aesthetics do play a major role, there is also the presence of universal emotions in his work.  Subtly woven throughout are threads of love and friendship, as well as loneliness and alienation. I think we can all agree are more important and relevant than ever before.

The new pop culture art at the kaws exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum NYC, including sculptures and paintings: Alone Again. Courtesy Photo.

photos of the new KAWS What Party show at the Brooklyn Museum

Those are some of our best photos of the new KAWS exhibit What Party at the Brooklyn Museum, a big, fun showcase of artist Brian Donnerly’s pop culture sculptures, paintings and more.

KAWS: WHAT A PARTY runs until September 5, 2021. Catch it if you can.

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This article contains affiliate links to products independently selected by our editors. As an Amazon Associate, Dandelion Chandelier receives a commission for qualifying purchases made through these links. 

Jillian Tangen is the Head of Research at Dandelion Chandelier and a former Senior Research Analyst at McKinsey & Co and Analyst at Shearman & Sterling. She is an avid fan of Nordic design, having owned an independent lifestyle store and sales agency focused on emerging Scandinavian design. Jillian lives in New York and is married with three young children. She loves cross-country skiing, the New York Rangers, reading, travel and discovering new brands.

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