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KAWS painting, 2 other works purchased for High Museum by collectors

By Howard Pousner
hpousner@ajc.com

The High Museum of Art will mount a major exhibit in February by Brian Donnelly, a New York artist who goes by the name KAWS. But KAWS’ graffiti and pop culture-inspired art-making already has caught the eye of some prominent High patrons.

At the High’s third annual Collectors Evening, a $500-a-plate benefit at the W Atlanta Midtown on Friday night aimed at adding key selections to the Midtown museum’s 12,000-plus-piece permanent collection, KAWS’ painting “Down Time” received the most votes from the 287 guests, becoming the first work selected for purchase.

Marcel Wanders’ “Crochet Chair” was picked in the second round; and Hiroshi Sugimoto’s experimental photograph “Lightning Fields” was designated as the third and final purchase.

KAWS’ piece should be a nice fit for the show by the artist opening Feb. 18 at the High: “KAWS: Down Time.” It will include a 22-foot-high, site-specific mural he will paint in the Wieland Pavilion’s Margaretta Taylor Lobby. “Companion,” a 16-foot-tall, 5,500-pound sculpture by the Brooklyn-based artist, already is on view on Sifly Piazza outside the High’s entrance.

Here are descriptions of the three purchased works provided by the museum:

  • Proposed by the modern and contemporary art department, “Down Time” is an acrylic on canvas by KAWS. KAWS is a pseudonym of Brian Donnelly, who was first recognized in the early 1990s in New York City in connection with graffiti art and quickly became associated with ambitious murals that subverted public advertisements. “Down Time” is an expression used to describe personal or recreational time spent away from daily cares and responsibilities. Here it also suggests a word play that refers to the gravitational downward pull of the painting’s imagery. The face of KAWSBOB—one of KAWS’ cast of cartoonish characters—is barely discernible through the disorderly tumbling of rectangular forms. KAWS has recently had solo exhibitions at the Aldrich Museum, Galerie Perrotin in Paris and Galeria Javier Lopez in Madrid. He has an upcoming solo exhibition at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.
  • Marcel Wanders’ “Crochet Chair” proposed for acquisition by the High’s decorative arts and design collection, blurs the boundaries between craft and design. A playful twist on the traditional lace doily, it’s a modern, airy and surprisingly weight-bearing form made from a simple hand-crocheted fiber. Wanders transforms the conventional openwork textile from a decorative yet protective shield of furnishings into the form of the chair itself. Using epoxy resin and a mold to create a hard fabric skin or shell, this prototype was the genesis of a limited-edition series of 20. One of the first designers involved with the innovative Dutch design collective Droog and co-founder of Moooi, Wanders is an important international contemporary designer whose works continue to delight and inspire.
  • Hiroshi Sugimoto, whose “Lightning Fields” was proposed by the photography department, is known for his elegant photographic series depicting subjects as diverse as seascapes, movie theaters and natural history dioramas. Widely admired as a master printer and one of the most important figures in contemporary photography, his work is held in museums worldwide. In recent years, Sugimoto has been experimenting with the application of electricity directly to unexposed film, creating images that are entirely photographic but made without the use of a camera and lens. After months of honing his technique with electrostatic currents in the darkroom, his forays have yielded a stunning series of prints, which he calls “Lightning Field” pictures. The photographs are mesmerizing and rich in tonality, their electric shapes utterly abstract while simultaneously resembling the basic structures upon which natural forms are built. In “Lightning Fields 182,” the visual trace of an electrical charge measuring more than 400,000 volts sweeps across the composition from bottom right to upper left, reading in turns like the textures of a human hand, the upward-reaching leaves of a fern and the stark branches of a tree.

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