KAWS: Family Exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario

KAWS: Family Exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario

Photo Credit: Rosie McDonald, Copy Editor

What does Toronto’s new exhibition have to offer?

Rosie McDonald, Copy Editor 

If you walk, jog, bike, or use public transit in the city of Toronto, and particularly on U of T’s campus, you have likely seen the brightly coloured posters of cartoonish creatures with balloon-like skulls and crossbones for heads. These would be the characters of the KAWS universe, now featured at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) as part of the KAWS: Family exhibition. The artist KAWS, or Brian Donnelly, is an American artist based in Brooklyn, New York. He is known for his KAWS character statues, which often stand tall at a height larger than that of the average person, but also for his paintings and sketches that incorporate mass media like television shows into the KAWS universe. With this exhibition, KAWS makes his Canadian debut! 

The KAWS: Family exhibition uses an unexpectedly large variety of unique artistic mediums. From the advertisements scattered around campus, you might have been led to believe that the exhibition consists only of the iconic KAWS statues. However, upon entering the gallery, one is greeted with walls full of brightly coloured, bold paintings of the KAWS characters, with a section dedicated to portraying the KAWS characters as characters from The Simpsons. There’s a wall full of KAWS’s framed sketches. There’s a display case containing pairs of Nike sneakers designed by KAWS and the sketches that preceded them.  

Most interestingly, KAWS incorporates virtual reality in his exhibition. Located in the AGO’s Galleria Italia, the exhibition continues with two circular platforms on the floor. You download the “Acute Art” app to get started. Near the circular platforms are footprints, and when you stand on these footprints and point the app’s camera towards a platform, you’ll see one of KAWS characters in the Galleria Italia, enjoying the natural light! Each platform shows you the character in a different pose.  

Following the virtual reality experience, the final section of the exhibition contains slightly humourous posters of the KAWS character incorporated into advertisements for big brand names like Calvin Klein. It also includes a small statue of the KAWS character as an MTV Video Music Award. This section of the exhibition contains some of the largest statues as well. A pink KAWS character dressed in a bunny costume looms particularly large over passersby.  

If you enjoy brightly coloured art and popular media, this exhibition is for you. There truly is something for everyone, whether it’s the gigantic KAWS statues, the bold paintings, the sketches, the Nike sneakers, or the peculiar sofa made of Sesame Street Characters (my personal favourite part). Should you decide to visit the KAWS: Family exhibition, keep an eye out for a piece that incorporates a photograph of another popular American artist. The exhibition is open until March 31, and admission to the AGO and exhibition are free to those aged 25 and under.