This December is the last month to check out Newcomb Art Gallery’s contemporary art exhibit A Shared Space: KAWS, Karl Wirsum, and Tomoo Gokita. You may recognize KAWS’ work from the album cover of Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak, as well as some of Jay-Z’s outfits. Newcomb Art Gallery is located in the Woldenburg Art Center on Tulane University’s campus. It is open Tuesday through Friday from 10AM to 5PM and Saturday and Sunday from 11AM to 4PM. The works on display are part of KAWS’ personal collection, chosen because they appealed to KAWS and informed his work. This exhibit creates a dialogue between KAWS, Wirsum and Gokita.
From left to right: KAWS, Not Yet Titled. Wirsum, Your Call Cannonball. Gokita, Speechless.
Karl Wirsum and Tomoo Gokita’s styles and influences differ substantially from KAWS. KAWS plays with images from pop culture like Snoopy and Charlie Brown. His recurrent image of Companion, a Mickey Mouse like figure with a cartoon skull head and Xs for eyes, distorts and reimagines familiar designs in unexpected ways. Wirsum, on the other hand, cites influences from Japan and India. Gokita draws influences from album covers and music.
Though none of the pieces are labeled by artist or title, each artist’s style is apparent. The statues and paintings of KAWS are in your face, whether that be by the enormous size of the shy Companion sitting outside Newcomb Art Gallery, or the neon colors of his street art inspired Not Yet Titled. A blow up version of Companion even appeared in the Macy’s parade in 2012. Gokita’s black and white portraits with blurred out faces are block-like and poised. Wirsum’s intricate masks, drawings, and paintings span many different techniques, but always bear his distinctive style.
Though these artists have distinctive voices, this exhibit makes it clear that their differences do not prevent them from influencing one another. For KAWS, who creates toys, statues, and street art, the barriers between different forms of creation are flexible. Gokita’s bulbous black Supermodel statue is stared down by the shiny, black Chum in the next room. Wirsum’s colorful tapestries in Accomplice #1 and Accomplice #2 conspire with KAWS’ repentant looking statue, similarly titled Accomplice.
The exhibit invites the observer to find these common threads. This is the first exhibit commissioned by KAWS from his private collection. It shows in the novelty of the experience, but it is elegant and pulled together in a way that does not betray that this is the first time such an exhibit has been displayed. I left with a renewed appreciation of KAWS, and a new interest in Gokita and Wirsum’s work.
From left to right: KAWS, Accomplice. Wirsum, Accomplice 1. Wirsum, Accomplice 2.