How Kaws Short-Circuited the Art World


I'm slaloming a mess of titans. To be more precise, I'm standing inside the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit in the final moments before Alone Again, a new exhibition by the artist KAWS, opens for a crowd of VIPs.

Every which way I turn, I find myself unwittingly confronted by a tweaked-out member of KAWS's odd mob of massive carved wooden sculptures. The most common presence is the artist's iconic character Companion. (Imagine a Mickey Mouse-adjacent creature with a skull-like face, cauliflower-esque four-chambered ears, and KAWS's signature “XX” eyes.) And yet, despite their alien nature, the sculptures each exude familiar emotions.

Take SMALL LIE, for example: The eight-foot figure stands slump-shouldered, knees knocked, eyes glued to the ground. There's incredible pathos. Or AT THIS TIME, wherein Companion stands almost nine feet tall, back arched with hands cupped over eyes, conveying a kind of muted shock and disbelief. Not far away is FINAL DAYS,in which Companion is on the move, stepping one foot in front of the other, arms outstretched, doing a low-key Frankenstein strut. Given the fact that all the pieces are taller than me, the overall effect of standing amid the bizarre cluster is that of being fully submerged within a twisted Venn diagram of awkward human feelings.

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