Remember those KAWS 6-Foot Under Companions?
As New York readies itself for KAWS overexposure, here’s an interesting afterthought on something Mr. Brian Donnelly didn’t want us to see–across the Atlantic Ocean in Berlin. Back in May, I posted 50+ photos from Selim Varol’s thrilling testament to the joy of toy art. Varol is, as can be clearly noted in the pictures of his collection, a fan, collector and patron of KAWS’ art. Here’s the disconnect: For the 6-month museum exhibition of his collection, Varol commissioned the creation of large, custom plexiglass coffins to display his 4-foot KAWS Companions. The show opened to great fanfare, photos of all the toys quickly spread, and lots of people around the world were made happy. But not KAWS.
A couple days after I published my story, I got a very nice email from the museum politely requesting that I remove the photos that showed the KAWS Companions in coffins. The actual coffins had already been removed from the physical exhibition, and the museum was now following a daunting directive from the KAWS camp: rid the Internets of all evidence. I thought about it for a while, and I decided to comply. Here’s why: I LOVE when museums exhibit toy art, and although I didn’t agree that it was KAWS’ business to police a collector’s choice of display (let alone task a museum curator with wiping out photos from the Web), I didn’t want the museum to suffer for a couple of contraband jpegs.
Naturally, I did inquire as to WHY KAWS objected to the coffin displays, and I’m not sure he provided the museum with a specific reason. What I got was along the lines of it being a violation of his proprietary rights because he hadn’t intended the art to be displayed in this way. I suppose it’s not impossible to get KAWS’ POV on this: KAWS coffins could be seen as suggesting that “KAWS is dead”. But to anyone with eyeballs not covered by X’s (and a calculator to add up values), it’s so clear that this wasn’t Varol’s intention. Custom cases are nifty. Coffins are cool. Funeral fashion is sexy. Sometimes, things get lost in translation.
Now that the exhibition is over, I’ve continued to ponder how KAWS (who made his name altering the aesthetics and meanings of other people’s work) feels entitled to police the presentation of a private (though publicly displayed) collection. When Irit visited the Selim Varol collection in September, the coffins were long gone. But the question remains: Can an artist claim “proprietary rights” to how his/her editions are displayed (in perpetuity)? And if so, should he/she? And if so again, does it matter if in doing so, the affected artist comes across as something of a hypocrite?
Just for shits and giggles, I Googled “KAWS + coffin” and found this little ditty from Odd Future:
What the fuck is caution?/ Often I leave ’em flossing in KAWS, exes next to coffins/ Lost in translation.
Rapgenius explains the lyrics: “Mike G leaves others behind on their clothing game, as he wears and shows off his KAWS clothing. Exes refer to KAWS’ signature eye designs [and has the] potential second meaning ’cause exes next to coffins’ (as in killing your ex-partners).” As for the ‘lost in translation’ bit, “The success you achieved in your dreams got lost in the process of turning that dream to reality.”
I find it pretty hypocritical of Kaws, an artist who went around defacing others’ artwork (ads/posters), to complain how someone else chooses to display the art/toy they rightfully purchased. What a joke…not sure how he has any right after it’s been sold to dictate its use unless it’s clearly documented as part of the original sale.
They weren’t violating any copyright laws (that I’m aware of) or reproducing his work. It’s no different than an art collector donating their collection to a museum. The original artist has no say in what is done with it.
It takes a lot of balls for someone that has been using another IP as the springboard of their success, to come in and have his way.
Perhaps it was a lawyer/manager thing out of his hands? Same ‘bind’ might refrain from talking about it too?
The coffin can be seen as part of the piece, wich is not respectful for the artist. It’s fine if you do that at home, but since this was a pretty important exhibition I think it’s fair that KAWS had the right to say something. Would you find normal to add a Xmas ornament around an Andy Wharhol painting or to put A Koons sculpture in gold and glass box? It give a different meaning to the piece. It’s just about respect of the artist/piece.
When you work in the design industry you often face this problem, that’s why you get style guides from brands. I’m not saying that its comparable but it’s related.
Respect the art, respect the artist:)
@Seb, I appreciate your point about style guides. (As a writer, we use them all the time, too.) Applying style or branding guidelines to art becomes problematic, though. Design (and copywriting) are objective, so there’s usually a right way and a wrong way to do something. Art, however, is subjective. And I’d argue that Andy Warhol would probably LOVE IT if I put his painting in a Xmas ornament
I don’t take this lightly, and for instance, if someone were presenting one of YOUR artworks in a way that negatively altered its meaning, I would probably get upset! The thing that bothers me about this case is that it’s hypocritical. For years, KAWS altered the meanings of other people’s artwork and that was OK with him I guess. Even if I could agree with you that he had a right to personally approach Selim about removing the coffin displays, it remains disgusting that he required the museum staff to track down all the “offending” pictures on the Internet.
Remember when Jeff Koons threatened Park Life with a Cease and Desist because they were selling “balloon dog” bookends? There’s some connection between that and this. In Koons’ case, he didn’t invent the balloon animal shaped like a dog. He saw a balloon animal dog somewhere and turned it into a million dollar artwork. Good on him for that, you know? But it’s hypocritical to threaten someone else for making a different art object based on a balloon animal dog. Just like I think it’s hypocritical for KAWS to care about who owns what only when it happens to suit him.
Respect the art; respect the artist! And I really appreciate you leaving a comment and helping me think even more about all this!
Never been a Kaws fan but I think once I pay however many thousands of dollars for something I can do with it what I please. If I wanted to take it for target practice, film it, and put it online I don’t see how anywone could stop me. While I may not have purchased the right to reproduce it, I have purchased the physical item and I can display it how I see fit.
What will be next? Will companies be able to send you a cease and desist if you customize their toys? Being that he just made a cookie jar, I don’t think his integrity as an artist was compromised in any way from his toys being put into coffins.