First Look: KAWS NGV Exhibition | Companionship in the Age of Loneliness

Brian Donelly (aka) KAWS (aka) the artist who needs no introduction, has given Melbourne the opportunity to see his iconic bodies of work at the National Gallery of Victoria.

The exhibition entitled “Companionship in the Age of Loneliness” opened to the public on the 20th of September and saw tickets selling out for the first few days.

Despite the exhibition running until the 13th of April 2020, it was evident by the seemingly endless queue that KAWS fans were extremely eager to see what was on offer – some primarily entering to be captivated by the contemporary New York artist’s intriguingly unconventional art, while others solely with their eyes set on the merchandise available at the KAWS x NGV Design Store.

All 3 "GONE" Vinyl figures were sold out by day 2...

 

Regardless of people’s motives and intentions for visiting, the undeniable success of KAWS’s very first Australian exhibition is a testament to the profound influence he has had on art, fashion and even music on a global scale. 

From the collection of monumental characters displayed at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) in 2016, to the “GONE” exhibition at New York’s Skarsted Gallery in 2018, KAWS has allowed not only those familiar with his work to enjoy it, but people from all walks of earth to take a look. 

Tickets for the KAWS NGV exhibition in Melbourne can be purchased online or on the day for $20AUD for adults, $17AUD for concession, $45AUD for families and $10 for children. Speaking of children, a free exhibition titled “KAWS: Playtime” was made available to children: “a rich sensory experience welcoming kids and families into BFF’s world.” (BFF being one of KAWS’s characters, Best Friends Forever). 

For all those who aren’t able to visit the exhibition for one reason or another, here’s a little look at some of the 100+ pieces of work creating a retrospective of KAWS’s 25 year career.

Upon entering the exhibition, KAWS’s earlier work dating back to 1994 can be seen – from the iconic skull logo that was often painted over bus stop advertisements in the artist’s home-town of Brookyln.


The following section greets viewers with KAWS’s iterations of an array of recognisable cartoons including KAWSBOB (2007-2008), KURFS (2007) and The Kimpsons (2000-2005). 

In 2005, Nigo, a Japanese DJ, entrepreneur and founder of fashion and retail chain A Bathing Ape (BAPE), commissioned a suite of paintings from KAWS, including the one seen on the top left based on the cover art of the second album of Simpsons songs, The Yellow Album (1998).

You can also see KAWS’s more recent work on display, allowing us to see how he has evolved and adopted different styles throughout his 25 years. The acrylic canvas paintings such as TENSION (X10) and NEW FICTION produced in 2018 depict KAWS’s further embracement of abstraction.

The multicoloured and multilayered camouflage-like pattering is somewhat reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s use of coloured camouflage (which can also been seen at the NGV). KAWS’s signature X motif are still incorporated seamlessly into each piece of work.




The final room of the exhibition reveals multiple characters and variations of them that KAWS has cultivated. In 1999, he created his first toy, “COMPANION”, through a major Japanese toy and streetwear company known as Bounty Hunter.

The sheer popularity of the toys KAWS would go on to release were what propelled him to an even higher tier. Some of these small-scale toys were then made into larger sculptures in 2006, as part of KAWS’s clothing label, OriginalFake

the COMPANION character has made multiple appearances in KAWS’s toys, sculptures and T-shirts for his OriginalFake brand as well as the four installations of the KAWS X UNIQLO UT collaboration.  Above, you can see COMPANION in various forms – the top left entitled “WATCHING” (2018) depicts COMPANION doing just that. COMPANION can also be seen half desiccated, revealing his internal anatomy. 

Characters such as BFF, ACCOMPLICE and CHUM can also be seen.

People wanting more of KAWS would have been overjoyed when exiting the exhibition to be greeted by more of the artist’s iconic work. The KAWS X NGV Design Store is open during the entire duration of the exhibition, offering an array of merchandise from CHUM tote bags to KAWS posters, postcards and COMPANION magnets.

The final KAWS x UNIQLO collaboration (KAWS: SUMMER) items can also be purchased here. Prices for all the products range from $10AUD to $50AUD, (exceptions being a set of 4 KAWS COMPANION dinner plates retailing at $550AUD and the “GONE” figurines at $950AUD). 

The “GONE” figurines were an instant sell-out…but they are still on display along with other figurines for all to admire.


Some of KAWS’s other work such as the CHUM Supreme skateboard decks (2001), KAWS X DC shoes (2002) and KAWS X Dior BBF Plushes (2018) were also on display leading up to the NGV Design Store entrance. We would have loved to see some of the KAWS X BAPE collaborations that have been released over the years (such as the assortment of Bapestas), but with all that’s showcased, we have no complaints. 

For those in Melbourne who can make it to the Companionship in the Age of Loneliness Exhibition, we highly recommend you do! Secure your tickets here. 

If you’re looking for KAWS clothing, accessories, toys + more, Top Floor Gallery has got you covered. Feel free to browse our collection of OriginalFake clothing, past KAWS X UNIQLO pieces, as well as some timeless BAPE X KAWS collaborations.