Review: KAWS at Honor Fraser Gallery

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KAWS is hot, judging by the size of his newsmaking opening-night crowd, but what the former graffiti artist and current media darling delivers to those making a pilgrimage to Honor Fraser Gallery is warmed over, at best. The show, titled ‘The Long Way Home,’ makes an excellent (if disheartening) case study of the phenomenon of branding. A review might better belong on the paper’s business pages.

Keith Haring was one of the first and best to develop a signature style on the street that then translated to the studio, went viral (pre-Web) and stayed vigorous. Dozens have followed. KAWS’ work has a touch of Haring’s childlike bounce and glass-eye-in-the-candy-dish subversiveness but little of its freshness and raw immediacy. “Chum,” one of KAWS’ trademark figures (available as a plastic toy, a tabletop bronze and in larger-than-life fiberglass) gives the rippled Michelin Man a skeleton-style face and goofy ears. A series of “Kurf” paintings riffs on the Smurfs, each piece featuring a variant of one of the little blue guys being silenced or seized, playing in the mud or eating a hot dog.


KAWS paints with the predictable graphic punch of mainstream cartoons: all vibrant colors, black outlines and exaggerated exuberance. Darkness, danger and ambiguity tiptoe through the work with coy self-consciousness, careful to leave no emotional residue. Commercial smarts trump the aesthetic kind, and predigested Pop culture blandness wins out. Another celebrity is born. Nothing new in that story, and nothing new in the art that illustrates it either.

-- Leah Ollman

Honor Fraser Gallery, 2622 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A., (310) 837-0191, through April 4. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Above: KAWS’ ‘Floating the Rumors’ (2009), acrylic on canvas. Credit: Joshua White