Former street artist Kaws buys US$17 million Brooklyn Building

A visitor looks at a sculpture by KAWS during a media preview of KAWS: Companionship in the Age of Loneliness Exhibition Opening at National Gallery of Victoria at National Gallery of Victoria on September 19, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (PHOTO: Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images)

By Katya Kazakina and Patrick Clark

(Bloomberg) -- It’s been a good year for KAWS, a New York artist whose works have sold for millions of dollars at auction and popped up from Hong Kong to Texas.

It’s been so good, the artist, whose real name is Brian Donnelly, closed on a 10,000-square-foot building in Brooklyn for US$17 million, Thor Equities Group said in a statement Monday. Thor, led by Joseph Sitt, purchased the building in a joint venture with Colt Equities for US$9 million in 2015.

The space, at 93 N. 9th St., is in the heart of Williamsburg, which was popular with artists in the 1990s until it became too expensive for many of them. The trendy neighbourhood by the waterfront is now home to luxury hotels, trendy restaurants and soaring rents. The artist’s current studio is located down the block from his new purchase.

KAWS started as a street artist and has designed T-shirts for Uniqlo and Air Jordan sneakers. He is known for cartoon-like characters, featuring X’s for eyes. Prices for his work surged in the past year. In April, a painting featuring the Simpsons and based on the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album sold for US$14.8 million in Hong Kong, a record for the artist and about 15 times the estimate.

Donnelly declined to comment on the purchase. His works totalled US$76.6 million at auction so far this year, according to Artprice.com, more than 10 times greater than two years ago.

While auction prices are a significant market indicator, proceeds from the sales don’t benefit artists directly. They can lead to higher prices for new works, also known as the primary market.

KAWS is currently having his first solo show in London. Prices at Skarstedt Gallery range from US$450,000 to US$575,000 for paintings. Sculptures are being offered for US$850,000. Typically, the artists get 50% of the sales at their galleries.


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