Don’t you hate it when your gesture as a cheeky provocateur causes damage to your brand and makes all of China angry with you? The tide of public opinion and corporate backing turned against street-artist-turned-fine-artist KAWS this week, when an untitled 2002 work depicting Chairman Mao (Mao Zedong) triggered massive outcry. The artwork, which was slated for auction on October 7 and was expected to reach between 620,000 and 950,000 Hong Kong Dollars (~$79,000–$121,000) has been taken down from Sothebys’ auction site, following a firestorm of public response, including videos of former KAWS fans literally burning their merch, as reported by Highsnobiety.
The Chinese paper Sing Tao Daily has a capture of the original listing, and an undoctored image of the work can be seen at MutualArt, which still has the sale date listed for October 7. The image augments an official Mao poster with KAWS’s recurring motifs: frilly ears, crossed-out eyes, and a bowtie. As reported by ARTnews, Sotheby’s Hong Kong cashed in hugely for KAWS in April of this year, selling his 2005 painting The Kaws Album for an earth-shattering $14.7 million, more than 14 times its high estimate. Now, affection for KAWS has taken a serious downturn, with outcry that this constitutes an insult to China and its people — particularly falling so close after the 70th-anniversary celebrations of the Chinese Communist Party, founded by Mao. In response, Uniqlo China has reportedly removed all KAWS products from its online store, as has China’s biggest resale platform, Poizon.
As Frank Sinatra said: that’s life. You’re riding high in April, shot down in …October. One suspects that even with the alienation of a huge market, KAWS will somehow land on his feet, as street artists from Basquiat to Banksy have always had a way of spinning controversy into gold. As long as there are rich people and mass markets with extraordinarily questionable taste, there will be a place for KAWS. Let’s just not get too carried away with imagining that this 2002 work represents actual social critique, so much as a bit of cultural button-mashing that has come back to bite.
Coasting the Topography of South Asian Futurisms
As part of Hyperallergic’s Emily Hall Tremaine Journalism Fellowship for Curators, Sadaf Padder presents an exhibition to offer insight into her curatorial process.
I’m a Florida Drag Queen and I’m Scared
I’m truly at a loss for what to do for work and what kind of life I can expect to live.
Pratt’s 2023 Fine Arts MFA Thesis Exhibition Is On View in Brooklyn
The two-part exhibition features the work of 41 graduating artists across disciplines, including painting, sculpture, printmaking, and integrated practices.
An Artist’s Hopeful Vision of the Ocean
Indonesian artist Mulyana crafts a tactile, mystical world in which fish, whales, and coral reefs coexist with sea monsters.
An Introduction to “Afrogallonism”
Serge Attukwei Clottey explores Ghanaian culture and identity through discarded jerrycans and other found materials.
The Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation Presents The Feminine in Abstract Painting
Curated by Jennifer Samet and Andrea Belag, this group exhibition in NYC explores the feminine through aesthetics, as opposed to identity or gender.
A Ride With Liz Cohen
Nothing in the artist’s personal biography could predict that she’d one day become a car builder and bikini model.
LA’s Hammer Museum Wants to Be Seen
After two decades of renovations, the museum that calls itself a “well-kept secret” reopens with a mission to be more visible.
NYU Steinhardt Opens 2023 MFA Thesis Exhibitions
Taking place at 80WSE Gallery in New York’s Greenwich Village, Part I is on view from late March through April while Part II opens in May.
AI-Generated “Dope Francis” Fools the Internet
Many thought the picture of Pope Francis in a puffer jacket, created using Midjourney, was the real deal.
1,400-Year-Old Mural of Two-Faced Man Found in Peru
Historians hypothesize that the Moche paintings could represent artists’ attempts to experiment with portraying movement or narrative.
Miniature Worlds: Joseph Cornell, Ray Johnson, Yayoi Kusama
Through small-scale works, this exhibition at the Katonah Museum of Art in New York examines Cornell’s prominent role in the lives and careers of Johnson and Kusama.
Louvre Shutters as Pension Plan Protests Intensify
President Macron’s plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 has sparked widespread demonstrations across the country.
They Managed to Mess Up an Art Heist Movie
There must be a lesson in Vasilis Katsoupis’s film Inside about the vacuousness of the art market or the claustrophobia of exhibition spaces — I just don’t care.
Love the article, but just had to mention that KAWS doesn’t use “frilly ears”, it’s a bubbly skull and crossbones. ☠️
Coming here to say much the same!
Let me see if I have this right. China is still a somewhat “closed” society, no thanks to its Great (Digital) Wall. Don’t you think SOMEONE in China likes the piece, but just can’t say so without threat of harm?
Beats me, always has, why anyone would consider paying any kind of money for his stuff.
not sure if this interesting either
i find it really interesting, what’s happening to KAWS, and how widely accepted his commercial collaborations are… I wonder what are we going to see tomorrow with first Phillips Kaws art sale in NY
Comments are closed.