KAWS - 20th C. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 14, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Video

    KAWS, 'FINAL DAYS', Lot 34

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 14 October

  • Provenance

    Friedman Benda, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    A colossal portrayal of the hybrid between a cartoon Smurf and KAWS’s signature COMPANION figure, FINAL DAYS, 2013, epitomizes the artist’s capacity to create images that are simultaneously humorous and disturbing in order to subvert conventional distinctions between high art and street culture. Meticulously executed in Afrormosia wood, the same medium as ALONG THE WAY, 2013, Brooklyn Museum, the subject is captured midstride with his arms outstretched, perpendicular to his body, in an eerie pose reminiscent of the iconic stalk of Frankenstein’s monster in the 1931 film adaptation. Through KAWS’s repeated use of its iconography, FINAL DAYS has become a motif in his oeuvre that epitomizes his astute ability to reimagine nostalgic symbols for the contemporary era.

    In a sharp divergence to the art historical canon of mythological and biblical depictions rendered in the classical medium of sculpture, FINAL DAYS confronts the viewer with an uncanny, hybrid character that is emblematic of the visual tactic of cartoon appropriation KAWS has become internationally renowned for. A sardonic portrayal of a cross between a Smurf and Mickey Mouse—perhaps the most instantly identifiable cartoon character of all time—FINAL DAYS employs a ubiquitous subject matter that was previously utilized by Pop masters such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, such as in the latter’s Look Mickey, 1961, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. However, the imperturbable ebullience typically associated with these childhood characters is subverted here by KAWS’s supplanting of Mickey’s three-circled head with his trademark sinister skull, a derisive supplanting that exudes a disconcerting sense of the uncanny. Simultaneously nostalgic and regal, FINAL DAYS exemplifies KAWS’s ability to manipulate the evocative faculty of hybridity as a means of challenging and deconstructing cultural boundaries. In exploiting the sentimental potency of universally treasured cartoon characters, KAWS imbues them with emotionally charged undercurrents to reinvent them in a contemporary context.

    A long-time admirer of H. C. Westermann’s distinctive approach to wood carving, KAWS chose to render FINAL DAYS with an exposed wood grain illustrative of his preoccupation with materiality. His experimentation with wood began in 2005, when he partnered with Karimoku, a Japanese furniture company, to produce his first small wooden COMPANION, and this collaboration galvanized him to consider the aesthetic possibilities of the material on a larger scale. “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,” KAWS recalled. “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 size” (KAWS, quoted in “KAWS: The Story Behind an Artwork, in the Artist’s Own Words”, Modern Painters, February 2016). Evocative of the centuries-old technique of marquetry, the natural striations of the wood produce an exquisite swirling ornamentation along the polished surface of FINAL DAYS, with each strip of wood punctiliously fabricated to align with the contours of the subject’s body. The resulting texture creates a marked contrast between its traditional wooden medium and the COMPANION’s empathically contemporary appearance.

    The implications of the sculpture’s title are unclear: are these the final days for a character from our youth, brought back to life to haunt us during adulthood? Or are these the final days before the present is superseded by the future, just as the present pushed the cartoons from the past into irrelevancy? Through its seeming apocalyptic title, enucleated skull, and Frankensteinian posture, FINAL DAYS transmits an ambivalent message utilizing characters that are typically associated with humor and nostalgia. “COMPANION is a figure in the world now, and it’s not all great out there,” KAWS has elucidated. “Even though I use a comic language, my figures are not always reflecting the idealistic cartoon view that I grew up on…COMPANION is more real in dealing with contemporary human circumstances. I think when I’m making work it also often mirrors what’s going on with me at that time” (KAWS, quoted in KAWS: WHERE THE END STARTS, exh. cat., Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth, 2016, p. 5).

  • 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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Afrormosia wood
82 5/8 x 76 3/4 x 53 7/8 in. (210 x 195 x 137 cm.)
Executed in 2013, this work is number 3 from an edition of 3 plus 2 artist’s proofs and is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist.

$1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

Sold for $1,460,000

Contact Specialist

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

20th C. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 14 November 2019