On January 18, the Serpentine Galleries in the United Kingdom inaugurated an art exhibition featuring the work of American artist Brian Donnelly, also known as KAWS, in collaboration with Acute Art and Fortnite. NEW FICTION at Serpentine is the first major solo exhibition in London featuring the creative repertoire of KAWS. The showcase at Serpentine North Gallery will continue to be on view until February 27, 2022. The exhibition presents artworks based on both physical and augmented reality, as well as video game. Acute Art’s artistic director, Daniel Birnbaum, curates Donnelly’s works, enabling viewing of AR-based artworks through the digital application developed by Acute Art. The app can be used to view the art exhibition globally, making the show accessible to people everywhere – a tool which has jumpstarted the art scene in a pandemic-shrouded world. Additionally, in a simultaneous process, the notoriously famous video game Fortnite is also hosting a recreation of the same exhibition in Fortnite’s first ever in-game art exhibition. KAWS has been hosted at numerous notable locations including The Mori Arts Center Gallery, Tokyo (2021); The Brooklyn Museum, New York (2021); The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia (2019); Fire Station, Qatar Museums, Doha, Qatar (2019) and many others.
Born in 1974, KAWS is a contemporary artist and designer based in Brooklyn, New York. His media of choice range from two-dimensional formats like painting and graphic design to large-scale installation art sculpture and toys. The artist began exploring and experimenting with graffiti art even before he graduated middle school, and began creating murals across the city as a youthful, curious adolescent. Although he started out as a street artist, KAWS has gone on to experiment with a potpourri of media like aluminium, wood, bronze, fiberglass and others. KAWS has made waves in the realm of the art world with his range of collectible miniature figurines as well as limited edition merchandise which typifies iconic Pop Art influences. His work by him is revered by collectors and gallerists alike, and resonates with American street and Pop Art culture. KAWS appropriates images of famous characters like Mickey Mouse creating universal recognisability in his work, much like Andy Warhol was known to have done with Campbell soup cans and Coca-Cola bottles. KAWS has also collaborated with renowned artists such as Kanye West, John Mayer and Pharell Williams, as well as institutions like Nike, MTV and Dior, creating a diverse, star-studded portfolio of projects in the process.
KAWS’s practice toes the line between being ostentatiously materialistic and ironically trendy. The deep dive into one side of the pool allows the artist to resurface on the other side. This particular conceptual space, which Warhol occupied with remarkable fashion in the 60s, puts the artwork on a unique pedestal – allowing it to comment on consumerist culture while being deeply entrenched in its form. KAWS has often come under fire from critics for his work not being conceptually sturdy, and for providing a space for the rich elite to park their funds. While I do believe that much of contemporary art today is just a market-driven excuse for substantial inquiry-driven art, KAWS approaches his practice with playfulness and dedication, outlining a space for street artists at fine art galleries, akin to Keith Haring during his time of him The demarcation created by his practice creates leeway for other street artists to be recognized in the exclusionary art markets today. KAWS has, over time, developed a distinguished aesthetic language and his range of collectible miniatures are crafted with humor as well as insight into the celebrated icons of our generation.
In reference to the ongoing exhibition NEW FICTION at Serpentine Gallery, KAWS said, “This is an incredibly exciting project for me. I always like exploring new mediums for my art. I became interested in working with AR when I realized the quality that can be achieved now. Then came the invitation to work with Fortnite. Now all these things come together in a complex exhibition that takes place in parallel realities. I want to thank the incredible teams at Fortnite, Acute Art and Serpentine.”
In gamescapes, a previous series I had authored, I underscored the reality of the video game era and its expansion into real world events, eventually creating a mixed reality, both physical and virtual. Video games like Second Life have already hosted artists like Cao Fei in virtual art exhibitions, and the featuring of KAWS in Fortnite is a reiteration of this emerging phenomenon. In the case of KAWS and Fei, hosting exhibitions within video game universe builds a bridge between gaming enthusiasts and art aficionados. This bridge serves to dissolve the boundaries between high art, street art and digital playgrounds constructing unexplored territories which emerge as we forge ahead.