There’s a strong possibility that we’re all being scammed, that the mind-frying success of American street-pop sensation KAWS is just an incredibly dark CIA psyop, or the work of a cabal of billionaire cultists in robes, hellbent on making people think – against everything they know to be true – that KAWS isn’t actually the worst artist of the twenty-first century.
Because this show is room after room, wall after wall of vacuous, pointless, empty bullshit. KAWS has been given his first UK institutional show and it’s as hatefully tedious as anyone who’s ever seen his art would imagine it to be.
For decades, KAWS has built a brand out of ultra-colourful toy imagery, appropriated cartoon aesthetics and mouse figures with Xs for eyes. Disney for Banksy fans, over and over and over. And it sells. This crap goes for millions. But it’s always remained the preserve of tech bros and coke-addled financiers, tat for people with infinitely more money than taste or brains.
But now, it’s here, in a proper, respected art institution, and it reeks. There are a few of KAWS’s big sub-Cartoon Network sculptures – a neon orange behemoth, a little grey one, a family of monochrome black ones – but the bulk of the show is canvases. And they are, somehow, worse. They’re all glossy neon stripes and cartoon shapes, crossed-out eyes, Spongebob mouths and Nickelodeon colours. I could headbutt my keyboard and I’d be putting more effort into reviewing these paintings than KAWS has put into making them.
It’s not all physical, though. There’s also an augmented-reality mouse guy you can see if you can be arsed to download the app. And the gallery’s been recreated in Fortnite too, which isn’t half as interesting or revolutionary as it likes to think it is, because artists have been creating in-game exhibitions for decades. It’s all part of the immersive KAWS experience, but I want to be immersed in KAWS about as much as I want to be immersed in a vat of pus.
The problem with KAWS, and this show, is that he and it aren’t about anything. It has no concepts, no emotions, no beauty and absolutely no point. KAWS’s art exists only to further establish the KAWS aesthetic, it exists to sell KAWS.
I have no idea why the Serpentine has got involved with this. All it’s doing is inflating the investment portfolios of the bozos who buy KAWS. Countless artists have appropriated pop culture before, toyed with toys, brought the street into the gallery, etc. This isn’t new, it isn’t interesting, and it isn’t good. It feels like we’re all being collectively gaslit, and I want KAWS to pay for my therapy.