Admired for his larger-than-life sculptures, iconified for his collectable figurines (often demanding high prices online), American artist KAWS makes his major debut at NGV from the 20th September to 13th April 2020, bringing with him, his cast of hybrid cartoon and human characters. More than 100 works covering 25 years.

The Exhibit:

Contemporary American artist KAWS, (a.k.a Brian Donnelly) is one of the most recognisable artists of his generation, thanks largely to his “Companion” collectable toy line which has attained cult status the world over. In an Australian first, “KAWS: Companionship In The Age Of Loneliness” is a comprehensive survey of 25 years of KAWS’s oeuvre, full of humour, hope and humanity, celebrating his ability to connect with broad audience.

The full range of KAWS’s artistic output will be on display featuring more than 100 works including iconic paintings reappropriating pop-culture figures to his more recent large-scale abstract works, and an impressive collection of his celebrated sculptural figures.

KAWS engages with universal feelings of isolation and loneliness through his works, in reaction to the turbulent world we live in today. His larger-than-life sculptures are playful, toy-like figures, however at closer look, they reveal a fragility and darkness in the vulnerable poses of the characters. The exhibition will include a newly commissioned 7-metre bronze COMPANION sculpture GONE, 2019, standing solemnly in a Pietà pose, evoking a sense of sorrow and empathy. On display in the NGV’s Federation Court, this monumental work will be the largest bronze KAWS has created to date.

Related: Designer Art Toys Inspired By KAWS

Installation view of KAWS’s GONE, 2019 on display for KAWS: Companionship in the Age of Loneliness at NGV International, Melbourne 20 September 2019 – 13 April 2020. Photo © Jonty Wilde

“He continues to engage new audiences through a common language of vibrant visuals and pop cultural references and characters”

Tony Ellwood AM (Director, NGV)

KAWS: Companionship in the Age of Loneliness is a major contribution to the growing international reputation of this contemporary artist. It follows KAWS’s recent solo presentations at Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (2016), the Yuz Museum Shanghai and the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (2017) and the Hong Kong Contemporary Art Foundation (2019). This exhibition introduces audiences to the full range of KAWS’s artistic output, including a newly commissioned monumental sculpture (his largest bronze sculpture to date), paintings reworking pop-culture figures and an impressive collection of human-scale sculptural figures. KAWS’s collaborations with other artists will be explored in the exhibition and those with major brands on display in the dedicated pop-up shop along with his own products.

KAWS: Companionship in the Age of Loneliness is a major contribution to the growing international reputation of this contemporary artist. It follows KAWS’s recent solo presentations at Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (2016), the Yuz Museum Shanghai and the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (2017) and the Hong Kong Contemporary Art Foundation (2019). This exhibition introduces audiences to the full range of KAWS’s artistic output, including a newly commissioned monumental sculpture (his largest bronze sculpture to date), paintings reworking pop-culture figures and an impressive collection of human-scale sculptural figures. KAWS’s collaborations with other artists will be explored in the exhibition and those with major brands on display in the dedicated pop-up shop along with his own products.

KAWS’ latest paintings showcase his hallmark use of bold colours and bright lines, transgressing into new creative territory with his hybrid characters now dissolving into fragmented fields of colour.‘ Unrestricted by conventional contemporary artistic boundaries, KAWS’s multidisciplinary and evolving practice across contexts and in collaborative ways, is representative of today’s society and the need to connect. He continues to engage new audiences through a common language of vibrant visuals and pop cultural references and characters’ said Tony Ellwood AM, Director, NGV.

“full of humour, hope and humanity, celebrating his ability to connect with (a) broad audience”

KAWS Foray Into The Collectible Toy Market (Companion):

During a trip to Japan in the late 90’s, KAWS noticed the booming collectible toy market and how in demand artist collaboration products were becoming. Shortly after his return State side, he began working on limited edition toys. These limited edition toys soon attained cult status among both art collectors and designer toy enthusiasts, since then he has produced more than 130 different variations of his character “Companion”.

Related: 130 Years Of MoMA At The NGV

In May 2017, KAWS collaborated with the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City to release a limited supply run of $200 KAWS Companion action figures, the resulting demand was so high that the MoMA Design Store website crashing due to the unprecedented rush of traffic, with the toys selling out the next morning when the site was back up.

KAWS first introduced COMPANION twenty years ago as a toy figure and has since created numerous iterations of the character in different colourways and scales ranging from human size to monumental sculptures. While COMPANION shares some elements with pre-existing cartoon characters – the gloves, shorts and shoes – KAWS gave it his trademark skull-and-crossbones head and crossed-out eyes.

‘The first of KAWS’s larger sculptures was produced in 2006 to greet visitors to a shop dedicated to his own fashion and design label, OriginalFake. COMPANION (ORIGINAL FAKE), 2011, with one half of its body dissected to reveal its internal anatomy.’ (Source: NGV.vic.gov.au/exhibition/kaws)

In recent years, KAWS’s sculptures have become overtly emotional or empathic, often featuring singular figures slumped at the shoulders. TOGETHER, 2017 and ALONG THE WAY, 2013, are examples where the artist introduces the antidote to these overwhelming feelings, with a second COMPANION placing its arm over the other’s shoulders reassuringly. The second COMPANION provides companionship, making good on its name, as other characters in KAWS’s universe like BFF and ACCOMPLICE do too, in different ways.

KAWS At NGV: Opening Night:

“Unrestricted by conventional contemporary artistic boundaries, KAWS’s multidisciplinary and evolving practice across contexts and in collaborative ways, is representative of today’s society and the need to connect. He continues to engage new audiences through a common language of vibrant visuals and pop cultural references and characters” Says NGV Director, Ellwood

Ticket & Event Information:

“KAWS: Companionship In The Age Of Loneliness” At The National Gallery Victoria.

In addition to the main exhibition, KAWS:PLAYTIME, a dedicated playful kids exhibition is also on display which KAWS has created specifically to introduce promising young artists of today to his creative approach and  artistic methods of integrating pop culture into his work.

An accompanying publication will be available from December 2019, which documents KAWS’s artistic practice across his whole career and incorporates installation documentation of the NGV exhibition.


Exhibition Times
Friday 20th September 2019 – 13th April 2020 10:00am – 5:00pm Daily

General Admission: $20 | Family (2 adults + 3 children) $45.00 | Concession $17.00 | Children (5-15 years): $10.00
Purchase tickets here
* NGV Members receive 20% off program tickets.
** American Express Card Members: Major Partner American Express is pleased to offer Card Members 15% off exhibition tickets. Enter the first four digits of your card number on the exhibition website to access this offer. Please have your American Express card ready to show upon entry at the NGV.

KAWS: COMPANIONSHIP IN THE AGE OF LONELINESS will be on display from September 2019 -April 2020 at NGV International, 180 St Kilda Road, Melbourne, Australia.

Guided Tours: Wed & Sun, 11.30am

National Gallery, Victoria: Website | Instagram
KAWS: Website | Instagram

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Founder & Editor in Chief @ Enzpired | Representing the magazines more traditional art movements, Timothy's primary focus is within classical fine art, particularly the Dutch Golden Age and Impressionism. With a penchant for dapper suits and the english language, striking a balance somewhere between The Great Gatsby and Oscar Wilde.