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KAWS and AcuteArt Develop and Deploy AR “Holiday”

Working in AR has allowed the artist expand the horizons for his work, while at the same time simplifying a lot of the logistics.

KAWS’ new, worldwide exhibition opened on March 12, despite the onslaught of a pandemic virus. However, Brian Donnelly’s (a.k.a. KAWS) newest work might be the type of art most well-suited for a planet on lockdown. The augmented-reality (AR) project titled “EXPANDED HOLIDAY” is comprised of three parts. “AT THIS TIME (EXPANDED)” is an open edition of three AR sculptures, which are available as a time-based acquisition for one week or 30 days. “COMPANION (EXPANDED)” is a 1.8 meter AR sculpture in a limited edition of 25, plus five artist’s proofs. “COMPANION (EXPANDED)” can be seen for free as a virtual installation of giant AR “sculptures” at 12 physical locations round the world.

Partnering with augmented, virtual and mixed reality studio Acute Art, Donnelly has created 3D sculptures of his Companion character, which only exist in AR. The public exhibition of “COMPANION (EXPANDED)” can be viewed as it levitates over landmarks in cities ranging from Doha to Melbourne and Sao Paulo to Seoul, via the Acute Art app on a smart phone.  Stand on the banks of the Thames in London and point your device’s camera at the Millennium Bridge and there will be an enormous Companion sculpture floating above it. Take a smart phone on safari in Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and you can catch a giant Companion floating over the grassy plains.

Donnelly began as a street artist in New York. “When I was doing graffiti, my whole thought was ‘I just want to exist. I want to exist with this visual language in the world.’ It meant nothing to me to make paintings if I wasn’t reaching people.”

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Moving from graffiti to vinyl toys and then larger sculptures, paintings and over-sized installations, the artist has succeeded at his goal of existing in the world.  His work has sold for millions of dollars, but his small vinyl figures can be had for under fifty. “EXPANDED HOLIDAY” returns his work to the street, while at the same time transcending the gallery, the museum and the physical world allowing it to reach far more people than any of his real world art.  The work is invisible but visible. “This is just kinda air, non-existent,” says Donnelly.

Read more: TIME’s New AR App Is a Devastating Look at the Deforestation of the Amazon

Working in AR has allowed the artist expand the horizons for his work, while at the same time simplifying a lot of the logistics.  Since no physical art exists, there is no crating, no shipping, no installing. As the world is threatened by climate change and COVID-19, an art project with almost no carbon footprint and no travel restrictions becomes even more attractive.

KAWS - augmented reality

Though the limited edition of “COMPANION (EXPANDED)” at $10,000 a piece has already sold out, “AT THIS TIME (EXPANDED),” the time-based acquisitions (rentals), are still available via the smart phone app. There are three versions that are available individually for one week at $6.99 or all three can be acquired for 30 days at $30.99.

Read more: How Art Can Beautifully Fuse With Augmented Reality

Acute Art was an ideal collaborator for this project. In a style piece, CEO Jacob de Geer explains that the company “…was founded on the vision of bringing art to places where it could not be before, and creating experiences that are not replicable without technology. It’s always been about creating a piece that could not be painted or sculpted.”

Echoing de Geer’s sentiment, Donnelly says, “I have been creating objects and exhibiting works in public spaces throughout my career, and this allows me to expand on that in a whole new arena. The possibilities of locations and scale are endless, and I’m excited to start a new dialogue in this medium.” 

“EXPANDED HOLIDAY” is on display now through the Acute Art app, available from the Apple App Store and the Google Play store in the following cities:

  • Doha
  • Hong Kong
  • London
  • Melbourne
  • New York (two locations)
  • Paris
  • Sao Paulo
  • Seoul
  • Serengeti National Park
  • Taipei 
  • Tokyo

Read more: Augmented Reality Enters the Mainstream