Brian Donnelly — aka KAWS — enjoyed quite a summer this year. The Kaws Album, his Sgt. Pepper’s-inspired painting, smashed his auction record by selling for $15 million at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, while his 100-ft. inflatable artwork, Companion, bobbed around the city’s Victoria Harbor for a week, and his largest retrospective to date opened at The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) on September 21.
Now, the museum is reaping the benefits of hosting Australia’s first large-scale exhibition of the immensely popular American artist. Titled KAWS: Companionship in the Age of Loneliness, the show is drawing huge lines in downtown Melbourne, and the NGV Design Store’s collaborative KAWS products are flying off of shelves. But NGV’s WeChat performance is also noteworthy, and the museum’s most recent post is proving to be one of its most popular ever.
Aside from providing essential information about the exhibition — which is set to run until March 2020 — and outlining exciting features like the BFF multimedia section and children’s game zone, NGV’s post is both well-structured and visually strong — two elements that are crucial for WeChat success. The post leads with a clear headline and a short video-clip before presenting users with a quick visual overview of the exhibition, which includes sections on KAWS’ early street art, his giant sculptures (GONE, a 23-foot bronze statue commissioned for the exhibition is Donnelly’s largest to date), and his most celebrated paintings. The post’s popularity illustrates just how important it is for museums and cultural institutions to consider the tastes of Chinese audiences when planning contemporary exhibitions, but also how vital it is that they’re presented on WeChat in a visually appealing way.
Nonetheless, the fervor over the NGV’s post is hardly surprising. KAWS’ fame in China has ballooned in recent years, as evidenced by the well-attended 2017 exhibition, Where the End Starts, which was hosted by Shanghai’s Yuz Museum, as well as the hysteria caused over the summer by a limited-edition run of UNIQLO X KAWS collaborative t-shirts, which were so popular that they led to brawls in Chinese shopping centers.
Chinese tourist numbers to Melbourne have been strong in recent years, and visitor spending in the city increased by 9.6 percent between 2017 and 2018. As such, the NGV has been increasingly focused on tapping into this market both through China-smart social media strategies and carefully chosen exhibitions like its recent Terracotta Warriors & Cai Guoqiang showing.
Words by Richard Whiddington.