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Brian Donnelly

by Rachel Corbett
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Brian Donnelly, the global art-and-fashion sensation better known as KAWS, is represented by Galerie Perrotin in Paris and shows with Honor Fraser in Los Angeles, but hasn't had a New York gallery show since his 2008 debut at Gering & López.

But who needs the clean white cube, really, when you can unveil your sleek, 16-foot fiberglass sculpture of kind of tough-guy Mickey Mouse, dubbed Companion (Passing Through), June 9-Oct. 1, 2011, in the plaza in front of the super-trendy The Standard hotel in Chelsea, heralding its arrival with a party attended by Richard Phillips, Rufus Wainright, Samantha Ronson, Questlove, Daniel Arsham and Kenny Scharf?

“I’ve always done sculpture, but doing something like this opens up a lot of doors,” Donnelly told Artnet during the party at the Top of the Standard nightclub. “For a lot of people, it takes seeing an actual sculpture before they’re open-minded to doing more.”

Indeed, the work is impossible to miss. With its skull-and-crossbones head and Xs for eyes, the giant mouse seems bashful -- its hands cover its face -- like it is embarrassed to be the center of attention. The sculpture is the largest Donnelly’s made to date.

To get a sense of KAWS' global network, just visit his online print shop, where the primary problem is keeping things in stock. His latest 20 x 20 screenprint, a portrait of a transformed SpongeBob SquarePants called Red Kawsbob, is sold out in an edition of 100 for $1,200 each. For artists like KAWS (and Shepard Fairey and other street artists), the "sold out" sign goes up soon after the official "drop" of a print. 

After its summertime appearance in New York, KAWS’ bashful mouse, which has already made stops in Hong Kong and at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Conn., is headed to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta this fall. It sold to a private collector about six months ago.

In the meantime, Donnelly has solo shows coming up at Honor Fraser, Sept. 10-Oct. 22, 2011, and at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth as part of its "Focus" exhibition series. Donnelly is co-organizing -- not “curating,” he corrected -- with painter Erik Parker an exhibition titled “Pretty on the Inside,” June 23-Aug. 19, 2011, at Paul Kasmin Gallery, featuring their own works alongside drawings, paintings, videos and installations by Todd James, Tony Matelli, Joyce Pensato, Peter Saul and Karl Wirsum.

Donnelly has always had an aptitude for self-marketing. The 36-year-old Jersey native first turned heads in the 1990s tagging New York City billboards and bus-stop ads with his name or his X-eyed figures. (Not surprisingly, his cartoonish pop esthetic is big in Japan.) He soon channeled his popularity into commercial success, designing skateboard decks, toy mouse figurines, Nike sneakers, a Kanye West album cover, wallets for avant-garde fashion house Commes des Garçons and, earlier this year, a $65 set of lightbulbs for The Standard’s series of artist-designed wares .

“That’s the way I came into art, through products and magazines,” he said. “I mean, I want to survive, and I want to make art until I die. You’d be stupid not to realize that business is part of it.”

At least Donnelly seemed to be at home among the natty party scene. Outside, thrust into the Meatpacking District’s shimmering, swarming crowds, not so much could be said for the bashful mouse.

RACHEL CORBETT is the news editor of Artnet Magazine. She can be reached at Send Email