KAWS wins lawsuit against counterfeit operation

Artist Brian Donnelly, who goes by the name KAWS, recently won a $900,000 lawsuit against Dylan Joy An Leong Yi Zhi and two Singapore-based companies that were producing counterfeit KAWS dolls, figurines, paintings, and more. ARTnews provides more details:

The artist KAWS will soon be $900,000 dollars richer after winning a lawsuit against two Singapore-based companies and a man named Dylan Joy An Leong Yi Zhi, who were producing counterfeit works, including dolls, figurines, canvases, and neon lights. 

According to court documents filed in the Southern District of New York, KAWS sent Leong and the companies a cease-and-desist letter in 2020. A lawsuit from KAWS followed in 2021.

The artist claimed that Leong and the companies had created hundreds of works that infringed on the his copyright, many of them featuring KAWS's famous skull-faced Companion. These works, the artist said, had a collective retail value of more than $63 million.

Court documents revealed that one of the companies went as far as to boast about its ability to create "custom hand-reworked reproductions" of KAWS's works and their price point, which is significantly lower than authentic figurines and sculptures designed by the artist. That public admission was enough for the court to find that Leong and his associates "knowingly intended to sell counterfeit KAWS goods."

KAWS creates toys, sculptures, paintings, and more, often inspired by pop culture characters and references. Christie's describes his work:

Described by curator and art historian Michael Auping as '[Clement] Greenberg's worst nightmare', KAWS is seen as the enfant terrible of the New York art world. Many have compared him to Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, whose own inimitable styles started out on the street, as well as Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons, who both had an instinctive understanding of the possibilities of art in the age of mechanical reproduction.

KAWS has name-checked his influences, which vary from Claes Oldenburg and Tom Wesselman to Takashi Murakami, the latter in terms of what the artist describes as 'acceptance and crossover projects'.

I was lucky enough to see a fantastic KAWS exhibit at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, in December 2019 (I'm including some photos I took at that exhibit in this post). You should go see his work if you ever get the chance! In the meantime, you can go peruse his Instagram.