Qatar Museums presents first exhibition of the artist KAWS in the Middle East
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Qatar Museums presents first exhibition of the artist KAWS in the Middle East
KAWS, Lost Time, 2016. Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 120 inches. 182.9 x 304.8 cm © KAWS. Courtesy of the Artist. Photo: Farzad Owrang.

DOHA.- Qatar Museums is presenting KAWS: HE EATS ALONE, the first museum show in the Middle East dedicated to Brian Donnelly (b. 1974, USA), known professionally as KAWS, at the Fire Station: Artist in Residence in Doha from October 25, 2019 through January 25, 2020. Curated by acclaimed art historian Germano Celant, this solo survey explores the artist’s career and vast oeuvre, featuring paintings, graphic design, small-scale objects, and large-scale sculptures made over the past twenty years.

The exhibition features forty artworks representing the artist’s studio practice on view at the Garage Gallery in the Fire Station and a monumental (40-meter long) inflatable sculpture titled HOLIDAY (2019) installed in the Dhow Harbour. Some ninety examples of products and commercial collaborations designed by KAWS–among them sneakers, skateboards, and toys –are being presented in the Archive located on the second floor of the Fire Station’s Café building.

“We are pleased to present this important exhibition of the work of internationally renowned artist KAWS, along with the giant public installation in Dhow Harbour,” said Sheikha Reem Al-Thani, Director of Exhibitions at Qatar Museums. “If the public reception of the recent installation of KAWS’s SMALL LIE (2018) at Doha’s Hamad International Airport, is any indication, the artist’s larger than life sculptures, which evoke questions of humanity and hope, will unquestionably resonate with the people of Qatar.”

"I am grateful for this opportunity to show a large group of my works in Doha for the first time, and in such a complex and interesting space at the Fire Station," commented KAWS.

Talking about the artist’s work, Germano Celant, curator of the exhibition, said: "The figures by KAWS are inflected in the world through a system of global communication and distribution. They are delicate, original forms that graft into every earthly context. They bear witness to the cosmopolitan spirit of an art “without place” that is able to convey an imaginary universe, always aware of having to negotiate its presence with the already existing market of signs. It is an acknowledgment of the iconic materials in circulation that have led us to a nomadic, and now virtual, culture. KAWS crystallizes a few of these, uprooting them from their mass profitability and making them alternative through their individuality, in keeping with a human perspective connected to the feelings of suffering and pain, boredom and sadness, which enable us to resist mass flattening and annihilation."

KAWS’ imagery has long possessed a sophisticated, dark humor, revealing the interplay between art and consumerism, referencing both art history and pop culture. Donnelly began his career in street art in the 1990s, becoming synonymous with the name KAWS, a tag that became a staple in his advertisements and ‘sub-vertisments’ (modifications of commercial works).

Later, the artist explored industrial production with KAWS COMPANION, CHUM, and ACCOMPLICE. These large- and small-scale objects translate the noisy exuberance of graffiti into 3-D cartoon characters that recall familiar images and characters in pop culture. By doing so, the artist is simultaneously representing the vacuity of media and, as a consumable product, the failure of art—a failure to change the world. Blindly, with Xs for eyes, these characters approach their audience with recognizable yet manipulated shapes, mutating in attempt to more easily interact with society. The formidable power of these hybrid figures, when cast as larger-than-life sculptures, speaks to a contemporary era in which image is often exchanged for persona—while their emotional stances are imbued with humanity.

The Doha exhibition takes over the Fire Station through large scale, artist-produced graphic installations that envelop the complex, inviting the visitor into the singular world of KAWS. The museum’s Garage Gallery is transformed into labyrinthine of gallery spaces designed by New York-based studio 2x4. A composition of fragmented art walls and sculpture platforms serve to both anchor and frame the works throughout the exhibition, including the titular piece HE EATS ALONE (2014), an early painting M2 (2000), signature character sculpture CHUM (2008, black) and ACCOMPLICE (2010).

Across the courtyard, the Archive features a wide array of smaller KAWS objects in a series of intimately scaled, display vitrines. The KAWS editions from 1999 to 2019 on view range from fashion and design objects to plush toys and skateboards produced in collaboration with diverse companies and brands.

In the Fire Station’s courtyard space, the work COMPANION (PASSING THROUGH) (2010), a 5-meter-tall matte black figure, seated with his hands covering his eyes, has been installed. The COMPANION figure, which was created by KAWS in 1999 and represented one of the artist’s first characters in 3D, is likewise the subject of the large-scale inflatable, titled HOLIDAY (2019), in Doha’s Dhow Harbour. The 40-meter-long figure, in this iteration in a reclined position, was installed earlier this year on a campground at the base of Mount Fuji in Japan.

KAWS engages audiences beyond the museums and galleries in which he regularly exhibits. His prolific body of influential work straddles the worlds of art and design to include paintings, murals, and graphic and product design, street art, and large-scale sculptures. Over the last two decades KAWS has built a successful career with work that consistently shows his formal agility as an artist, as well as his underlying wit, irreverence, and affection for our times. He often draws inspiration and appropriates from pop culture animations to form a unique artistic vocabulary for his works across various mediums.

Now admired for his larger-than-life sculptures and hardedge paintings that emphasize line and color, KAWS’ cast of hybrid cartoon and human characters are perhaps the strongest examples of his exploration of humanity. His refined graphic language revitalizes figuration with big, bold gestures and keen, playful intricacy. As seen in his collaborations with global brands, KAWS’ imagery possesses a sophisticated humor and reveals a thoughtful interplay with consumer products. Highly sought-after by collectors inside and outside of the art world, KAWS’ artworks, with their broad appeal, establish him as a uniquely prominent artist in today’s culture.

KAWS (b. 1974, Jersey City, New Jersey; lives and works in Brooklyn, New York) has exhibited internationally in major museums. His recent solo exhibitions include KAWS: COMPANIONSHIP IN THE AGE OF LONELINESS, The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia, KAWS: WHERE THE END STARTS, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas (2016) which traveled to the Yuz Museum, Shanghai (2017); KAWS, Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Longside Gallery, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom (2016). His work has also been the subject of solo exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (2019), Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, Missouri (2017); Brooklyn Museum, New York (2015); Centro de Arte Contemporáneo, Málaga, Spain (2014); Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Overland Park, Kansas (2013); Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia (2013); and the High Art Museum, Atlanta, Georgia (2011).

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