KAWS - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, May 16, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Collection of Mary Boone, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth; Shanghai, Yuz Museum, KAWS: WHERE THE END STARTS, October 20, 2016 - August 13, 2017, pp. 104, 195 (illustrated, p. 105)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “I think Peanuts is part of being a kid in America. Whether it’s the Great Pumpkin on Halloween or just seeing a different cartoon in the paper, it’s sort of around everywhere.” –KAWS

    UNTITLED (MBFU9), 2015, is a larger-than-life shaped canvas by the acclaimed artist KAWS that dramatically occupies our space. Painted with saturated colors and precisely defined lines, its subject is instantly recognizable as Snoopy from Charles M. Schulz’s comic Peanuts. KAWS presents the cartoon beagle seated on the canvas director’s chair often seen in the theatrical productions put on by the Peanuts characters. UNTITLED (MBFU9) was featured in KAWS: WHERE THE END STARTS, the artist’s first comprehensive exhibition, which was organized by the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth in 2016 and traveled to the Yuz Museum in Shanghai. Deconstructing the boundaries between popular culture and fine art, KAWS appropriates both Schulz’s famous character and the key characteristics of his style to create a painting that is compelling in its imagery, content and form.

    Aficionados of Peanuts will recall that Snoopy inhabits many different personae, transforming his personality by adopting costumes and behavior to imaginatively take on the roles of other animals, athletes or a WWI flying ace. When Snoopy dons sunglasses, he becomes the character of Joe Cool, which Schulz introduced in 1971. Here, Snoopy’s “coolness” is conveyed by his nonchalant seated pose and shades, which KAWS marks with his trademark Xs. However, in the iconography of cartoons, Xs in the place of eyes communicate death or drunkenness. These, coupled with Snoopy’s laid-back demeanor, perhaps throw into question his apparent confidence. KAWS further hints at the fragility of his protagonist’s attitude by adopting Schulz’s signature use of a wavering line to portray Snoopy’s mouth, an expression used by the cartoonist to express consternation. KAWS thus hints that Snoopy’s cool exterior exists as a façade for more complicated emotions, reflecting complexities in our own presentation of self.

    In 1995, KAWS painted his tag over a MetLife billboard featuring Snoopy and Woodstock, an early incorporation of imagery from the comic into his art. As his career has developed, he has returned repeatedly to Peanuts as a source, explaining: “I’m into Schulz as an artist, a company, and an icon; I got into his stuff just because I liked the looseness of the line work, and I thought that it was just sort of a nice thing to bring into my paintings” (KAWS, quoted in Steff Yotka, “Inside KAWS’s Studio With the Artist—And His Snoopy for Uniqlo Toys”, Vogue, April 27, 2017, online). KAWS employs characters and a visual vocabulary drawn from comics and cartoons, applying them to the concerns of contemporary art. He thereby extends the legacy of Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol—Pop artists who introduced comic book imagery into their practice in the early 1960s, as well as subsequent artists like Keith Haring who have mined popular culture. Like his predecessors, KAWS adopts their imagery and conventions, making them his own to communicate his vision.

    As Michael Auping has written, “While one expects KAWS’s work would be entirely indebted to Pop art, his process suggests an equal debt to Minimalism, in which abstract parts of materials are rearranged to create different types of wholes” (Michael Auping, KAWS: WHERE THE END STARTS, exh. cat., Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth, 2016, p. 68). KAWS’s use of a non-rectangular support also resonates with another key innovation of 1960s art: the use of shaped canvases by artists such as Frank Stella and Ellsworth Kelly. Whereas his predecessors’ non-figurative works are based on combinations of geometric forms, UNTITLED (MBFU9) follows the contours of Snoopy and his chair, applying KAWS’s own pictorial logic and establishing the painting’s larger-than-life presence. As Auping notes, “American abstract painters employed the shaped canvas to objectify the canvas support, to give it the look of a self-contained painted object. KAWS uses it for just the opposite reason, as a form of physical animation, energizing the characters so that they appear to be moving across the landscape of the wall” (Michael Auping, KAWS: WHERE THE END STARTS, exh. cat., Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth, 2016, p. 74). In so doing, KAWS succeeds in extending the legacies of distinctly American post-war movements with the vernacular of contemporary popular culture.

  • 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 a Distinguished Private Collector



signed and dated "KAWS..15" on the reverse
acrylic on shaped canvas on panel
60 1/4 x 60 3/8 in. (153 x 153.4 cm.)
Painted in 2015.

$300,000 - 500,000 

Sold for $1,340,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 16 May | On View at 432 and 450 Park Avenue