The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) has an amazing new exhibition, “KAWS: ALONE AGAIN,” running May 10th, 2019 through August 4, 2019. This exhibition features three paintings and five sculptures. Additionally, “ALONE AGAIN” includes a 62-foot painting created onsite by KAWS, that will only be on display during the exhibition’s run. So make sure you make it to MOCAD if you want to see this temporary KAWS masterpiece.
StockX had the privilege of sitting down with MOCAD Executive Director and “ALONE AGAIN” curator, Elysia Borowy-Reeder, to talk about the exhibition, MOCAD, and KAWS.
The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
StockX: How did the KAWS exhibition come about?
Elysia: Because we’re a museum and not-for-profit, our lead time on exhibitions and planning are quite long. This slate of exhibitions, as a group, came together about four years ago when I met Eddie Martinez and we talked about his work. He asked if we could ever do a show together [at MOCAD]. So that was in the back of my mind. I started to think about what an exhibition with Eddie’s work would look like and how could we talk about his paintings in constellation with other works. Then two years after that I was talking about Brian’s work, about KAWS, and his conflation of ideas that he straddles. This whole idea of character, design, hard-edged geometric abstraction, and scale worked as a show for both Eddie and KAWS.
We’re also a very public-minded institution and community engagement, especially with the youth, is very important. So the other component to putting together this exhibition is that the artists have to engage and work with the youth in some fashion. We had conversations with both artists about this requirement, and they both had really good, really positive answers.
So you end up talking to these artists and talking about all these things that go into making a show and making it special for Detroit. To do a show here, you have to be on board with how special it is here. So that’s how it all started, a simple conversation with one artist and that led us to do this show.
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How were you able to connect with KAWS?
We worked with a local partner, Library Street Collective. Anthony [Curis, co-founder of Library Street Collective] helped get the introduction and the site visit. The site visit was like, “This is the space, but we need a little bit more.” During the site visit, the artist also has to meet the team, meet the curators, and come to Detroit. These are all people-driven projects.
The site visit went really well, and so many ideas were generated. So then we worked against the plan, and we were able to develop an interpretation and program for the show that will work not only for the exhibition but all facets of the show and programming. For example, how will this exhibition intersect and work with a group of middle schoolers?
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JUST ANNOUNCED: For two high energy weeks this summer, Detroit area middle school students will have the opportunity to interact with the work of @kaws, to design and create their own characters. Led by teaching artists experienced in illustration and product design, camp begins with youth touring and interpreting KAWS’ work at MOCAD—from there youth design characters based on themselves with basic illustration techniques. Then those illustrations come to life as youth translate their 2-D drawings into 3-D forms using a variety of materials. . KAWS EFFECTS: Character Design Summer Camp. Ages 11-14. July 15-26, 2019. Scholarships available. Learn more at mocadetroit.org/kaws-effects. . 📷 KAWS, Final Days, 2014. Courtesy of the artist. . KAWS: ALONE AGAIN opens at MOCAD on May 10. #kaws #summercamp #detroit #youth
What works make up the exhibition? Are there new KAWS works?
It’s very rare for us to borrow works from a private collector and make a show from borrowed works. We always ask the artist to come and make work for us, either at their studio or come and make it on site. KAWS came a week before the May 10th opening and did this 62-foot wall painting for us. So you have to come to MOCAD, you can only see it here. That wall painting is not for sale; it does not participate in the market at all. The purpose is that we’re a non-collecting museum and we only show works fresh from the studio. So there’s three paintings and five sculptures, not including the 62-foot painting. The works are new, but they incorporate many of KAWS’ familiar characters.
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When the KAWS exhibition was announced, was there an increase in interest in MOCAD by young people?
I would hope to see young people come through. We’ll have to see when the show officially opens! We’ll see. I just don’t know. I mean the teens are so excited about it because it is accessible because his sculptures evoke an emotion that triggers your imagination, you wonder, “is this sculpture sad? his nose did fall off.” I know adults collect the work, but in some ways, I think the popularity is fueled by the youth. It’s really the kids that are so excited about it.
Has there been greater interest in MOCAD since announcing KAWS?
It’s about the same. The thing is, MOCAD is a very small museum, but we get phenomenal press because our shows are unique. So I would say the press traffic is the same. But the level of interest from the community has increased. Our previous show’s opening had about 1,200 people come through for the opening. We have something like 2,500 people who’ve already RSVP’d for KAWS. It’s a definite increase in RSVPs!
How would you describe KAWS’ work to someone experiencing it for the first time?
Usually, people relate to contemporary art through their personal experience. You should always be introducing people to new artists. So you hope that people have an open mind when they approach art. Maybe people got here because of KAWS, but I also hope they learn about Eddie Martinez, Nick Lobo, and the four very under-recognized video artists that we have showing here. I think that can happen if the person is curious enough. But what I say is: “These are amazing artists, check them out!”
What is it about KAWS that you find so compelling?
A lot of really beautiful color and his line work is incredible. His use of color is also amazing. It’s just amazing. There’s a whole visual vocabulary that he created, and he did it himself, in his own way and on his own terms. That’s very hard to do. You have the color fields and the color field paintings mixed with hard-line geometric abstraction that are large in scale. With the addition of the sculptural work, the sculptures and the paintings are in relationship to each other. The sculptures don’t have any color; they’re dark wood. With the absence of color and having the color come from the painting, there’s an interesting relationship between the two.
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Is there one particular KAWS piece that stands out in this exhibition?
I think it reads as an installation. I know these are individual works we’re dealing with, but for me, I think the whole thing reads as an installation. For me, the entire work should be “ALONE AGAIN,” because for me it reads as an installation. The individual works are strong and beautiful, but it should be read as a complete piece.
The exhibition’s title is “ALONE AGAIN,” what does that mean?
When you see the sculptures, the sculptures have deep emotion, and you can read that as sad, there’s sadness there. Right, like, “I’m alone again.” But you can interpret that in different ways: alone again because you broke up; alone again because you’re starting something new and you’re literally alone because you’re in your own space getting ready to create; alone again because your friend went home. It depends on where you are at that particular time and place. And sometimes good works and shows will change with time.
There was also a limited number of KAWS prints that were offered as a part of the show. Would you mind talking about that?
Yeah. So this was an amazing idea because it was so generous by the artist. We had about 250 prints, and we wanted to do an online sale, and they sold out in 90 seconds. They’re 8×8 and sealed in envelopes. They’re sealed, stamped, and signed and completely chosen at random. You don’t really know what your print is until you open it.
Any final thoughts?
I didn’t anticipate so many people flying in from all over the world and the country. It’s great when you have so many people coming in from Asia, Hong Kong, London, Mexico City, LA, and New York. Detroit is an international city; MOCAD is an international art museum. I just hope people enjoy their time in Detroit. I just hope they explore a little bit when they get here.