KAWS - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Tuesday, November 30, 2021 | Phillips
  • Introduction 


    Considered as one of the most iconic and forward-thinking artists of his generation, KAWS is celebrated for his multi-disciplinary practice that subverts the traditions of fine art with street art influences, satirising consumer culture. Breaking the ideological hierarchies between the avant-garde and kitsch, KAWS gives his characters life through a variety of mediums including clothing, limited-edition toys, and large-scale sculptures. His works are highly accessible and firmly embedded within contemporary culture, garnering him a devoted international following and establishing his position as a key player in the lexicon of contemporary art.




    KAWS by Nils Mueller for Wertical


    “When I was younger, I wasn’t going to galleries, I wasn’t going to museums … There was a lot of ‘this is fine art’ or ‘this is not fine art’; ‘this is commercial’, ‘this is high art’. In my mind I thought, art’s purpose is to communicate and reach people. Whichever outlet that’s being done through is the right one.” 
    — KAWS 


    Captured mid stride with his arms outstretched and fingers reaching out in an eerie pose, FINAL DAYS is reminiscent of the iconic stance of Frankenstein’s monster, mashed with the contrastingly endearing portrayal of cartoon characters’ gloves, shorts and shoes. Each eye of the figure is marked with the artist’s signature X and his skull is adorned with crossbones, establishing the work as a hallmark within the artist’s oeuvre.




    Installation view of a larger edition of FINAL DAYS at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, 2016





    In a sharp divergence to the art historical canon of mythological and biblical depictions rendered in the classical medium of sculpture, FINAL DAYS creates a marked contrast between its traditional wooden medium and its empathically contemporary appearance. From ancient stone carvings to the visionary sculptures of Renaissance artist Michelangelo, or more recently, Auguste Rodin, sculpture has been explored by artists for centuries as a medium in which to artistically render physical forms (see for example, Lot 27 - Auguste Rodin,  Le Baiser, 1ère réduction dite aussi "réduction n°1" (1898)).



    Auguste Rodin, Le Baiser, 1ère réduction dite aussi "réduction n°1", 1898
    Lot 27 -  Phillips Hong Kong in Association with Poly Auction Evening Sale, 30 November 2021
    Estimate HK$ 10,000,000 - 15,000,000 / US$ 1,280,000 - 1,920,000 



    Truly contemporary in its formation, FINAL DAYS is made from afrormosia hardwood sourced in Africa with the craftsmanship of master craftspeople in Europe. The exposed natural grains of the wood form exquisite swirling striations along the smooth polished surface, with each strip of wood punctiliously fabricated to align with the contours of the figure’s body. As a result, the traditional wooden medium juxtaposes the characteristically contemporary appearance; as the artist recalls: ‘I was thinking of the relationship I’ve had to wood toys growing up and the warmth and feeling they have when you hold them in your hand or place them on a shelf or table and stare at them, I wanted to expand on that, to create a wooden sculpture that makes you feel small but at the same time I want the viewer to feel like they should somehow help or console the work, despite its towering sizei.




    Louise Bourgeois, Maman, 1999
    Installed at the Long Museum in Shanghai, 2018
    © The Easton Foundation / VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY



    As such, a more contemporary comparison can be made to the work of French-American artist Louise Bourgeois, whom too, drew from her childhood memories to form sculptural pieces that are simultaneously haunting and comforting. Like FINAL DAYS, Bourgeois’ spider sculptures are predominantly large in scale, looming over the viewer in a manner that defies the heaviness of their materiality. Instead of evoking predatory fear, however, Bourgeois allows her viewers to explore the depths of their own psyche as she highlights the beauty of her arachnid subjects in works such as Maman (1999) where she includes a sac filled with eggs to symbolise the protective nature of maternal love. Similarly, although the scale, X’d eyes and skull head of KAWS’s FINAL DAYS may appear at first to be menacing characteristics, there is an overwhelmingly endearing quality to the figure too, as viewers are transported into the artist’s toy-like world.


    Through KAWS’s repeated use of his iconography, FINAL DAYS has become a motif in his oeuvre that epitomises the artist’s astute ability to reimagine nostalgic symbols for the contemporary era. As Chris Lee commented for the Los Angeles Times: ‘Over the course of a career that has variously infuriated ani-graffiti task force officers and enthralled Japanese street couture collectors-meaning winning props from hip-hop superstars Kanye West and Pharrell Williams - the pop artist KAWS has cared a unique niche for himself… created a business model that bridges the high-low culture divide in ways that would have made steam come out of Andy Warhol’s ears’ii.


    Collector’s Digest  


    Born in New Jersey in 1974, KAWS’s interest in art was shaped by his engagement with skateboarding and graffiti subcultures. Graduating from the New York School of Visual Arts in 1996, KAWS worked as an animator for Jumbo Pictures. It was during this period where he had tagged the advertising posters found at bus stops on the streets of New York with crossed bones and ‘X’s for eyes. His interest in appropriating existing iconography to confront the viewer with the familiar, made strange, soon prompted him to revisit well-known characters from popular, reconceptualising their forms as he translates them into the realm of fine art.


    Now celebrated as one of the most important creators of his generation for his ingenuity, work by KAWS can be found in prominent public collections around the world. This includes the Brooklyn Museum, New York; Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas; CAC Malaga; Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; and the Rosenblum Collection, Paris.


    In addition to extensive solo exhibitons around the globe, KAWS’s practice has most recently been honoured with a solo exhibition, KAWS: SPOKE TOO SOON, at Skarstedt in New York (5 November – 11 December 2021). KAWS also recently exhibited a monumental retrospective in his hometown, KAWS: WHAT PARTY, which was hosted by the Brooklyn Museum in New York between 26 February – 5 September 2021.


    Recent solo exhibitions also include the Mori Arts Centre in Tokyo (16 July – 11 October 2021), and a retrospective at the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia (2019-2020). An upcoming exhibition will soon open at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta: KAWS PRINTS, which will run from 3 December 2021 – 27 March 2022.




    i KAWS as quoted in ‘KAWS: The Story Behind an Artwork, in the Artist’s Own Words’, Modern Painters, February 2016

    ii Chris Lee, ‘Tag, this artist is definitely it’, Los Angeles Times, 21 February 2009, online

    • Provenance

      Private Collection, New York (acquired directly from the artist)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, Brooklyn Museum, KAWS: WHAT PARTY, 26 February – 5 September 2021, p. 243 (another example 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.  

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Property of an Important Collector



210 x 195 x 137 cm. (84 x 74 x 53 1/2 in.)
Executed in 2014, this work is number 2 from an edition of 3 plus 2 artist’s proofs and is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist.

Full Cataloguing

HK$6,200,000 - 8,200,000 

Sold for HK$8,115,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art
+852 2318 2026

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

Hong Kong Auction 30 November 2021