Review of Kaws: Down Time at The High Museum


Step into the High Museum over the next few months and you will notice that some large, vibrant, and cartoony images have been sprinkled throughout the entire art center. It almost feels like the High has created a game for viewers to discover this new work within multiple sites of the museum. KAWS: Down Time has taken over the museum and is an exciting exhibition that is a must see for the people of Atlanta. 

The man behind KAWS, Brian Donnelly, began as a street artist in New York but now has translated his work into paintings, drawings, and sculptures that use imagery reminiscent of the cartoons in our current day pop culture. KAWS: Down Time is the largest exhibition of his work to date and this bold work captures you before you even step foot inside to buy tickets. “Companion” is the large sculpture that greets visitors in the courtyard of the Woodruff Art Center. This piece resembles Mickey Mouse but with a skull and crossbones head which is bowed into his hands and gives a somber vibe which is juxtaposed with it being a cartoon character. This being the first piece that one sees before entering the museum creates an atmosphere that demands your attention and forces you to realize the importance of the body of work being shown.

Once you get inside the High, the real adventure begins. Viewers can see the site specific wall painting next the coat check. This large wall painting has a finger which is pointing in the direction of the exhibitions. It acts as a guide leading you towards the main attractions. I was sad to hear that the Museum plans on painting over it after the show ends in May. Inside the Robinson Atrium of the High hangs the 24 foot long triptych. The colors of the piece are so bright that at times it feels as you must squint to see all the different orange and red hues. It is a beautiful piece that brings so much color to the all white atrium. The size of it creates the feeling that you are looking at a billboard directing you to the floor of the exhibition.

The Contemporary art floor plays host to the main exhibit of the work. This exhibit is a colorful feast for your eyes. You are bombarded with 27 circular paintings that once again are so bright that some may feel the need to squint. The images on these paintings act as almost macro paintings of different body parts of the cartoon figures. The majority of the paintings are focused around KAWS’ character KawsBob who is based on the popular cartoon character Sponge Bob Square Pants. Flanking these 27 circle paintings on both sides are two impressive canvas paintings that still offer the same pizzaz as the rest of the work. Though, at times, it seems hard to focus on them because you feel the need to keep re-examining the circle paintings because of the diverse imagery within them. Across from this section there is a life size sculpture of KAWS’ character Chum. He seems to be based on the Michelin Man and so reflective that you can see the paintings in his reflection. To the right of Chum, you enter a room that serves as a historical documentation of Brian Donnelly’s early work. This room acts like an oasis from the large and colorful work in the main area. It is here where you are able to see where the artist got his start. These smaller drawings, paintings, and sculptures let you decompress from the other work yet are still somehow very powerful.

KAWS: Down Time is an amazing show that is a pleasure for viewers to feast there eyes upon while making their way through the High Museum. Not only is this an important exhibition for the High Museum and Atlanta, it is an important progression for the relationship between street art and the contemporary art world.