KAWS - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Tuesday, June 8, 2021 | Phillips

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  • “KAWS is not just referring to Pop culture, he is making it.” — Michael Auping


    Prodigious in scale, standing at over six feet tall, TOGETHER is instantly recognisable as a major work by KAWS, one of the most prominent and forward-looking artists of our present age. From a rare and particularly evocative small series of seven editions plus 2 artist’s proofs, this is the first time TOGETHER has ever been offered at auction before.


    Stunningly realised in meticulously painted bronze, the present work depicts two of KAWS’s instantly recognisable COMPANION figures, which since their inception in 1999, have come to be recognised as among his most prized motifs. Differing from the other large-scale bronze works by the artist that have appeared on the market, most of which feature a solitary COMPANION rendered in various poses, here, KAWS presents us with a pair who are caught in a firm embrace – their arms tightly wrapped around one another in a manner that powerfully injects notions of humanity into the composition, juxtaposing the materiality of the solid sculptural piece. 



    KAWS, TOGETHER, 2017 installed in St. Louis, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, FAR FAR DOWN, 5 May – 13 August 2017



    Testament to the importance of this work, TOGETHER made its museum debut in 2017 at the esteemed Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, United States, where it was installed in the heart of the museum’s impressive courtyard, set against a backdrop of KAWS’s immense site-specific painting on the museum’s Project Wall. Despite the enormity of the space, it was TOGETHER that demanded the full attention of visitors – the COMPANION’s warm embrace evoking emotions and triggering a sense of childlike reverie.  


    Indeed, with further editions of the work featured in major exhibitions hosted by leading institutions around the world, including the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, the Hong Kong Contemporary Art Foundation, and Qatar Museum’s Doha Fire Station, TOGETHER is a prime and rare example from KAWS’s unique practice that perfectly embodies the very best of his impressive oeuvre. 



    KAWS, TOGETHER, 2017, installed at Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria, KAWS: Companionship in the Age of Loneliness, 20 September 2019 - 15 March 2020, as featured in the exhibition’s catalogue, n.p.



    Pop Culture in the Making 


    One of the most prominent heirs of Pop art, KAWS was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, in 1974. Following his graduation from the acclaimed School of Visual Arts in New York City in 1996, where he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in illustration, he briefly took a job as a freelance artist for the animation studio Jumbo Picture. Here, he worked as a background painter on animated series such as Disney’s 101 Dalmatians, and cult shows Daria and Doug, before adopting the name KAWS as a graffiti provocateur. In modifying photographic images on the billboards and fashion and bus shelter advertisements of New York, KAWS would leave his recognisable mark in such a skilful manner that his brushstroke-free versions could have been mistaken for the initially intended imagery. Gradually, he continued to broaden his lexicon to beyond street-art renderings, inventing his own host of protagonists reformulated from classic cartoons.


    Andy Warhol, Lifesavers, 1985
    As part of Phillips’ Hong Kong Evening Sale, 8 June 2021 (Lot 35)
    Estimate HK$3,000,000 - 4,000,000 / $385,000-513,000


    In doing so, inventively modifying the cartoon heroes’ relatable and timeless appearances, KAWS extends the art historical lineage of appropriated artwork, recalling the legendary practices of his artistic predecessors such as Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Barbara Kruger, and Richard Prince. Indeed, just as Warhol’s obsession with popular culture, consumerism, and commercialism was exemplified through works such as Lot 35 – Andy Warhol, Lifesavers (1975), in which he replicates vintage Life Saver sweets advertisements from the 1950s to explore notions concerning brand imagery and consumer behaviour, KAWS too, taps into the sentimental potency of icons to stimulate nostalgia and delight, with COMPANION being inspired by Disney’s world-famous mascot. Moreover, whilst Kruger and Prince championed the use of appropriated imagery from the media to call into question the importance of originality, paving the way for KAWS’s approach, KAWS goes one step further, reimagining pre-existing motifs to create his own repertoire of images. As asserted by Michael Auping, ‘KAWS is not just referring to pop culture, he is making it’i





    At the same time, KAWS follows in the longstanding tradition of sculpting in bronze, creating figures that stand firmly rooted to the ground yet appear animated, about to move at any time. His materiality brings to mind the working methods of Henry Moore, the famous English artist who became well-known for his large-scale bronze sculptures which frequently depicted abstract forms of reclining figures. Indeed, his work is interesting to consider in relation to KAWS, as like Moore, KAWS is deftly able to capture the intimacies of a relationship through the medium of bronze on a large-scale, demonstrating an adroit understanding of the medium that only few have mastered. Works such as Family Group (1949) by Moore demonstrate the English artist’s ability to evoke a lightness and dynamism despite the heaviness of its material, beautifully representing the trio’s tender emotional connection. In a similar manner, KAWS is able to uniquely portray a poignant moment in TOGETHER, stimulating the emotions of the viewer as we look on as an outsider to the intimate gesture.




    Henry Moore, Family Group, 1949
    Collection of Tate, London



    In making a more contemporary comparison, the work of Jeff Koons is prescient to consider in relation to that of KAWS, as he too references pop culture imagery in his work, manipulating his influences through scale and material. For example, Koons’ life-size Hulks from his acclaimed Hulk Elvis series (2004-14) are made from bronze, but appear weightless, their materiality curiously resembling that of inflatable toys. Working in a similar vein, KAWS’s TOGETHER also retains the smooth, toy-like appearance of his original vinyl miniatures blurring the lines between high art and low art in his juxtaposition of materiality. 




    Jeff Koons, Hulk (Organ), 2004-14


    TOGETHER is engaging and enigmatic in equal measure, however, and differs from Koon’s Hulk in the intriguingly human aura each COMPANION figure evokes. Although COMPANION is often portrayed seeming sad, overwhelmed, or tired, hunched over or shying away from the world, here, the two COMPANION figures hug tightly, looking out at the viewer from over the other’s shoulder. As they are positioned together, we, the viewer, look on alone. Though conveying a playful disposition through their cartoon language which introduces a nostalgic potency, working to harness our childhood memories, both their body language and size is distinctly human, marking a strange shift in perspective that makes us feel as if it is we who have entered into their toy world. As the artist himself explains of his COMPANION figures, ‘he [COMPANION] deals with life the way everyone does’ and ‘is more real in dealing with contemporary human circumstances. He reflects attitudes we all have’ ii

    Contrasting this, however, are each figure’s pair of X-ed out eyes that eerily confront us, reminiscent of the image of cartoons after a character has drunk from a vial of poison. The inclusion of his signature detail gives a slightly sinister edge to the otherwise sweet work as KAWS blends playful wit with more morbid undertones, evoking empathy, humour, as well as a meditative reflection on fragility, ultimately presenting the viewer with a powerful exploration of the human condition. 


    KAWS Large Works at Auction

  • Collector’s Digest 


    With his distinct aesthetic that has garnered him a devoted international following including more than 3.3 million people on Instagram, KAWS has experienced a meteoric ascent to international recognition, establishing his position as a key player the lexicon of contemporary art. His acclaimed oeuvre has avidly caught the attention of collectors worldwide, as well as industry giants and collaborators such as Nike, Dior and Uniqlo. His practice has been honoured with numerous solo shows around the globe including, most recently, a monumental retrospective at the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia (2019-2020), and a current survey titled KAWS: WHAT PARTY at the Brooklyn Museum in New York, which opened on 26 February and runs until 5 September 2021. 




    KAWS, COMPANION, 2019. An inflatable sculpture installed during the opening ceremony for Hong Kong Contemporary Art Foundation, KAWS: ALONG THE WAY, 3 March - 14 April 2019
    Photo Courtesy Lawrence/Agence Fance-Presse – Getty Images 



    i Michael Auping, ‘America’s Cartoon Mind’, in Where the End Starts KAWS, eds. Andrea Karnes and Marla Price, Texas, 2017, p. 63 

    ii KAWS, quoted in, KAWS: WHEN THE END STARTS, exh., cat., Yuz Museum, Shanghai, 2017, p. 5

    • Provenance

      Honor Fraser, Los Angeles
      Ross + Kramer, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2017

    • Exhibited

      Contemporary Art Museum St Louis, KAWS: FAR FAR DOWN, 5 May – 13 August 2017 (another example exhibited)
      Hong Kong Contemporary Art Foundation, KAWS: ALONG THE WAY, 3 March - 14 April 2019 (another example exhibited)
      Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria, KAWS: Companionship in the Age of Loneliness, 20 September 2019 - 15 March 2020, n.p (another example illustrated and exhibited)
      Qatar Museums, KAWS: HE EATS ALONE, 25 October 2019 – 25 January 2020, pp. 132-134 (another example illustrated and exhibited)

    • Artist Biography


      American • 1974

      To understand the work of KAWS is to understand his roots in the skateboard and graffiti crews of New York City. Brian Donnelly chose KAWS as his moniker to tag city streets beginning in the 1990s, and quickly became a celebrated standout in the scene. Having swapped spray paint for explorations in fine art spanning sculpture, painting and collage, KAWS has maintained a fascination with classic cartoons, including Garfield, SpongeBob SquarePants and The Simpsons, and reconfigured familiar subjects into a world of fantasy. 

      Perhaps he is most known for his larger-than-life fiberglass sculptures that supplant the body of Mickey Mouse onto KAWS' own imagined creatures, often with 'x'-ed out eyes or ultra-animated features. However, KAWS also works frequently in neon and vivid paint, adding animation and depth to contemporary paintings filled with approachable imagination. There is mass appeal to KAWS, who exhibits globally and most frequently in Asia, Europe and the United States.  

      View More Works



painted bronze
180 x 126 x 77 cm. (71 x 50 x 30 in.)
Executed in 2017, this work is number 6 from an edition of 7 plus 2 artist’s proofs, and is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by the KAWS studio.

Full Cataloguing

HK$7,000,000 - 9,000,000 

Sold for HK$10,656,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 8 June 2021