It was clear from the start that 2018 would be the year of KAWS. In late 2017, his longtime backer Emmanuel Perrotin
announced that he would host KAWS shows at his gallery’s spaces in both Tokyo and Hong Kong, a major Asian push for the 44-year-old former graffiti artist Brian Donnelly, who makes Day-Glo cartoon-skewing paintings and sculptures. In late February, powerful secondary market dealer Per Skarstedt
bet big on KAWS by signing Donnelly on for representation, and then saw the risk pay off as the market momentum of previous seasons continued with the March sales in London. At the Phillips day sale, two KAWS works exceeded their high estimates, one bringing £909,000 ($1.2 million), a record for the artist.
That record was broken two more times in 2018. First, in October, a painting of cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants sold at Sotheby’s for a £850,000 hammer, or £1 million ($1.3 million) with fees, a total more than three times the work’s high estimate of £250,000. Then in November, at Phillips New York, Untitled (Fatal Group)
(2004) sold to the bidder on the phone with Kevie Yang, a senior specialist with a focus on Asia, for $2.9 million, or $3.5 million with the buyer’s premium. In total, five KAWS works sold for more than $1 million at auction in 2018, and the frenzy continued in December at Art Basel in Miami Beach
, where, in collaboration with Pace Prints
, KAWS was on hand for the release of a limited quantity of his new silkscreen prints. As a melee erupted around him, the artist was unfazed about the Phillips sale: “I still showed up at my studio at 9 a.m. the following day,” he said.