KAWS exhibits ‘NEW FICTION’ at the Serpentine Gallery, in collaboration with Fortnite and Acute Art

On January 18, Serpentine Galleries in the UK opened 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 showcasing the creative repertoire of KAWS. The Serpentine North Gallery showcase will remain on view until February 27, 2022. The exhibition features works based on both physical and augmented reality, as well as video gaming. Acute Art’s Art Director, Daniel Birnbaum, curates Donnelly’s works, enabling the viewing of AR-based artworks through the digital app developed by Acute Art. The app can be used to view the art exhibition around the world, making the exhibition accessible to everyone – a tool that has revived the art scene in a pandemic-ridden world. Additionally, in a concurrent process, the notoriously famous Fortnite video game is also hosting a recreation of the same exhibit in Fortnite’s first-ever in-game art exhibit. KAWS has been housed in many notable venues, including 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 more.

Family2022, sculpture in augmented reality Image: Courtesy of Serpentine Galleries

Born in 1974, KAWS is a contemporary artist and designer based in Brooklyn, New York. His preferred media 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 from college and began creating murals across town as a young and curious teenager. Although he started out as a street artist, KAWS continued to experiment with a medley of mediums like aluminum, wood, bronze, fiberglass and others. KAWS has been making waves in the art world with its range of collectible miniature figures as well as limited edition products that feature iconic Pop Art influences. His work is revered by collectors and gallery owners, and resonates with American street and Pop Art culture. KAWS appropriates images of famous characters like Mickey Mouse, creating universal recognition in his work, much like Andy Warhol was known to have done with Campbell’s 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 such as Nike, MTV and Dior, creating a diverse and star-studded portfolio of projects.

COMPANION (EXPANDED), 2020, Augmented reality sculpture, KAWS |  NEW FICTION |  KAWS |  restless world
Companion (expanded)2020, sculpture in augmented reality Image: Courtesy of Serpentine Galleries

The practice of KAWS is on the border between being ostensibly materialistic and ironically trendy. Diving deep on one side of the pool allows the performer to resurface on the other side. This particular conceptual space, which Warhol occupied in remarkable fashion in the 1960s, places the artwork on a unique pedestal – allowing it to comment on consumerist culture while being deeply embedded in its form. KAWS has often been criticized by critics for its work that was not conceptually sound and for providing space for the wealthy elite to park their funds. While I believe much of contemporary art today is merely a market-driven excuse for substantial research-driven art, KAWS approaches its practice with playfulness and dedication, describing a space for street artists in art galleries, similar to Keith Haring during his time. The demarcation created by his practice creates room for other street artists to be recognized in exclusionary art markets today. KAWS has, over time, developed a distinguished aesthetic language and its range of collectible miniatures are designed with humor as well as insight into the famous icons of our generation.

WHAT PARTY, 2022 and SEEING, 2022, Augmented reality sculptures, KAWS |  NEW FICTION |  KAWS |  STIRworld
What a party and Seeing2022, augmented reality sculptures Image: Courtesy of Serpentine Galleries

In reference to the current exhibition NEW FICTION at the Serpentine Gallery, KAWS said: “This is an incredibly exciting project for me. I always like to explore 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 of these things come together in a complex exposition that takes place in parallel realities. I want to thank the amazing teams at Fortnite, Acute Art and Serpentine.

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NEW FICTION in the world of Fortnite |  NEW FICTION |  KAWS |  STIRworld

New fiction in the world of Fortnite Video: Courtesy of Epic Games

In game landscapes, a previous series I authored, highlighted the reality of the video game era and its expansion into real-world events, ultimately creating a mixed reality, both physical and virtual. video games like second life have hosted artists like Cao Fei in virtual art exhibits before, and KAWS’ Fortnite showcase is a reiteration of this emerging phenomenon. In the case of KAWS and Fei, the organization of exhibitions in the world of video games creates a bridge between game enthusiasts and art lovers. This bridge serves to dissolve the boundaries between high art, street art and digital playgrounds by building uncharted territories that emerge as we move forward.

Mirror (2018), Sleepless (2018), Getting the Call (2018) and What Party (2020) Image: Courtesy of Serpentine Galleries

Julia P. Cluff