Brian Donnelly, better known as KAWS, is having more than a moment. The Brooklyn Museum has just announced they are planning a major survey of his work for 2021 and the New York Times dubbed it ‘KAWSMANIA’ as the international KAWS appeal shows no signs of slowing down.
The street artist who began tagging walls and inserting his work into bus stop advertisements continues his meteoric rise to becoming one of the leading figures of the contemporary art scene.
Described by some as ‘[Clement] Greenberg’s worst nightmare’ KAWS is a controversial figure in today’s art world. Drawing mostly from cartoons and comics he defies the binary of ‘high’ and ‘low’ art, nodding to the Pop Art tradition of Keith Haring, Roy Lichtenstein, Basquiat and Andy Warhol while making use of social media and canny collaborations to bring his work to the masses.
Collectors in Asia particularly are seeking KAWS work and the popularity of his large scale sculptures of the Companion character that have appeared in Hong Kong’s harbour and Japan’s iconic Mount Fuji. With his market value rising with every sale, you can expect a significant return on your original investment, allowing you to expand your print collection or even invest in an original work by the artist, at the same time offering the unique thrill that comes with collecting.
KAWS and Effect
Some – not many – are immune to the KAWS effect, in fact some highly reputable critics have denounced him, ruling him out as a key player in the art world, or certainly not one that will go down in the art history books. Art advisor and publicist Josh Baer once said: “I don’t think that the history of art will go: Matisse, Pollock, Johns, Basquiat, KAWS. If you think that Paris Hilton and the Kardashians are important cultural figures, then you’re likely to think KAWS is an important artist.” Meanwhile, over 1.1 million photos have been tagged on Instagram with the hashtag KAWS, whilst the closest second in Baer’s revered history of art list is Basquiat, with a comparably quiet 671,000 hastags.
So, is the sheer power of KAWS’ reach the main facilitator of his remarkable popularity? Or is there something in his work that allows it to sit comfortably alongside the work of pop culture icons Andy Warhol and Keith Haring? Alberto Mugrabi, whose family owns the world’s largest collection of Andy Warhol seems rather convinced. Describing his first encounter with KAWS – who’s work he now avidly collects – he explains, “This was like some sort of street art that I hadn’t seen before that came out of Keith Haring and all the graffiti artists…It looked familiar but completely unfamiliar. I understood that this guy had a completely different type of language.” It was perhaps when dealer Per Skarstedt, who represents the likes of Georg Baselitz and Martin Kippenberge began representing KAWS in 2018 it was as if the brakes had been taken off, any residual concerns the world’s contemporary collectors had around the validity of KAWS seems to have completely evaporated. Popular culture iconography has always been KAWS inspiration but his characters are fast becoming cultural icons in their own right. His distinctive style bends the rules and blurs the boundaries between reproduction, originality, illustration, advertising and fine art. For now, at least, the market’s appetite for KAWS is veracious.
Provenance and Paperwork
When selling any work of art it is always important to ensure you have all the documents associated with it. From a certificate of authenticity or auction receipts to details of the previous owners, these pieces of paper can make a huge difference – sometimes resulting in thousands of pounds of increased value – when it comes to secondary market sales.
As always, the condition of a work of art is one of the most important factors when determining its value on the market. Ensure your piece is kept as sensitively as possible, guarding against strong sunlight, moisture and general wear and tear. It is always a good idea to spend money on a reputable framer who can mount the work professionally and who will know not to trim the sheet down as this can affect the value.
If you are unsure about the condition of your works, speak to an art dealer who will be able to recommend a conservation specialist if necessary MyArtBroker can put you in touch with the right person. Often works on paper can buckle over time, the print appearing slightly wavy due to changes in temperature or atmosphere, but this can be easily fixed by an expert. It is usually advisable not to attempt flattening or adjusting the print in any way yourself as this can do more harm than good and can result in loss of value.
Signed or Unsigned?
As with every work of art a signature can add value, however they are not always necessary to prove a work is genuine. Though KAWS often produces prints in large editions, these are usually all signed by the artist.
Following in the footsteps of Keith Haring’s Pop Shops, KAWS opened a series of shops called OriginalFake in 2006 that sold limited edition toys and other merchandise by the artist. Ironically – or perhaps fittingly – these are now some of the most falsified pieces on the market, while the signed and editioned prints remain a safe bet when sold through the proper channels. Having said that, it’s always a good idea to ask an expert to authenticate a work before putting it on the market. Our brokers are always happy to advise you in these matters.
KAWS has produced dozens of screen print portfolios, ranging in size from an edition of 50 to 250. Naturally those in smaller editions tend to be more sought after on the market but a large edition size should not be considered a barrier to a good sale, particularly if the work is striking – and in excellent condition. Many editions also include up to 20 artist proofs which should be considered when buying or selling work by KAWS in editions.
KAWS portfolio of 10 prints entitled Ups and Downs is particularly in demand, considered to be one of his ‘iconic collections’ along with his Snoopy print set and his Presenting the Past edition. These works are perhaps the most sought after because they demonstrate the development of the artist’s unique and sophisticated later style; recognisable cartoon characters still feature heavily but here they are merely outlined, while colour and form take centre stage.
Timing is everything
With KAWS at the forefront of the contemporary art market, now is a unique opportunity to sell his work. Bolstered by his many collaborations with fashion houses such as Dior and streetwear brand Uniqlo, his work has never been more in demand. Following a large exhibition at Fort Worth Museum, Texas, the artist is now also exhibiting widely and preparing for a major survey of his work at the Brooklyn Museum.
Multiples are by far the most collectable of the KAWS oeuvre, and offer a range of works to become familiar with, as well as a broad spectrum of value. Edition sizes of KAWS prints range from 20 to 250. The characteristic quality of KAWS’s work in this medium and the tremendous demand for them keeps the market moving. Complete sets of 10 screen prints are highly requested by collectors. Most popular are Ups & Downs (2013), Blame Game (2014), No Reply (2015). To discuss more about any prints you might own, do hesitate to speak to our specialist brokers whose wealth of knowledge in the market can help navigate this vast and growing category for KAWS.
KAWS’s turned to painting more prolifically in the early to mid-2000s, and his paintings are in very high demand. His earliest works featured distorted images of familiar animated characters including the Smurfs, the Simpsons and SpongeBob SquarePants.
Whilst the medium of painting places KAWS work in the fine art category, his work further blurs the lines between high art and popular culture. As the Museum Curator, Michael Auping, wrote: “KAWS is [art critic Clement] Greenberg’s worst nightmare and a philosophical challenge to those of us who, perhaps secretly, want to believe in fine art ‘purity’ and the separation between high and low.”
KAWS sculptures (aside from toys, and excluding his monumental installations) have been produced in editions of 10, 25, and 100. Monumental sculptures, meanwhile, come in editions of two or three.
The first of such was a Companion sculpture created for his then Tokyo boutique, OriginalFake, which opened in 2006 and closed its doors in 2013. Work from KAWS’ OriginalFake period are – rather ironically – the most subjected to being faked, and hence it is in this area that authentication is absolutely vital. As with all editions, paper trails are important. Selling through on a reputable and reliable platform ensures you know you’re getting a fair price for your KAWS work, and buying via one allows absolute trust in what you’re getting for your money. MyArtBroker’s specialist brokers can help advise you on all counts.
KAWS has created in excess of 100 editions of his most famous characters. Among them is Companion, KAW’s ubiquitous Mickey Mouse- inspired cartoon with Xs for eyes, for most fans Companion has icon status as the symbol of today’s popular culture. There is also Chum, a version of Companion that is reminiscent of the Michelin Man, and Accomplice, another seeming relative of Companion, but with a pair of rabbit ears. These are produced in vinyl, wood, and mixed media.
KAWS released his own toy figures from his website in 2002, rather than via collaborators, as he had in the past. At that time they were priced at $100 and $500. As with all artists who produce editions, multiples helpfully present collectors with an opportunity to collect at various budget levels. As always smaller and larger edition sizes place work more or less in demand, and value is most often dictated by demand.
Our O% Promise
Knowing where to sell your artwork is important. Auction houses will appraise your work for free and help you set a reserve price
but when it comes to the day of the sale anything could happen. There is always the risk that your work will be presented alongside a number of similar lots which could have the effect of weakening the appeal of your piece. The auction house will also take a substantial sales fee. Selling privately through a site like MyArtBroker means you’ll gain access to a network of clients, carefully selected by our brokers who know their individual tastes. We will always tell you how much you can realistically sell the piece for and can discreetly market the work on your behalf.
How it works
When you make contact we assign you a dedicated KAWS broker, you agree a price, we offer your work immediately, and start looking for a buyer. Once a buyer is found and the funds are cleared we can help ship the work direct, with no storage facility needed.
What does it cost to sell?
We now offer 0% seller’s fee – guaranteed, with no hidden fees.
How can we offer this service at 0% sellers commission, whilst auction houses take as much as 15%?
There is a lot of cost attached to operating some selling models, including auction houses, and whilst we invest heavily in digital innovation and put marketing your artwork at the top of our priority list, we can offer the same service through our existing network in the KAWS marketplace, and our specialist brokers.
Why is it suitable for novice collectors?
For buyers we offer the time to carefully consider each purchase without the pressures of a live auction room, and can bring a greater selection of artworks to market in a simple, secure way. View KAWS work to buy.
Why is it suitable for more experienced collectors?
We offer the perfect opportunity to post listings for wanted artworks within a global community of buyers and sellers – ideal for collectors searching for particular works that are more difficult to come by.