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Art July, 18 2011

Ronnie Pirovino’s Massive KAWS Collection

With the help of Brandon Shigeta, Ronnie Pirovino has documented a large portion of his KAWS collection, what is believed to be amongst the most complete in the world. We caught up with Ronnie to discuss why/how he’s come to build it over the years; what his future plans for it are, etc.

Have you always been a collector?

When I was around eight or nine, I started collecting stamps, as my father did around my age. From there, I moved to Garbage Pail Kids, then NFL player cards. From late high-school to post-college in the late 90’s, I didn’t collect anything. But I had studied art history, so my interest had been kindling. It was 2003 when I started collecting art. Seeing the Warhol retrospective at MOCA (LA) was pivotal. I was amazed to see so many of the pieces in the show belonged to private collectors. The notion of building a collection of art started to enter my mind and I came across KAWS’ work right around that time. I started collecting a lot of the artists that drew my attention, including Barry McGee, Andrew Schoultz, Marcel Dzama, etc.

Read more and see the full collection after the click.

When did you first become interested in KAWS? What drew you to his work?

I first became interested in KAWS when I saw a 5 Years Later Companion at GR. That was the first piece I purchased. What drew me in was the exquisite sculpture embodied in this particular rendition, both menacing and humorous equally. This KAWS reinvention of the iconic Mickey Mouse really struck a chord in me.

At what point did you decide to start collecting KAWS work? And at what point did you realize you were going all in?

I’ve been collecting KAWS’ art since early 2004. I started collecting KAWS’ work more avidly after I saw it in the Beautiful Losers museum show in 2005, at the Orange County Museum of Art. Until then, I had mostly collected his ‘toys’ but I started to focus more on originals after that point. I realized I was going ‘all in’ in building a definitive collection of KAWS artwork when I decided to sell some of the other artists’ work I had been collecting, to hone in on the best KAWS pieces I could find. In these photos by Brandon Shigeta, you will find most of the collection. There remain a few secrets.

How did you manage to amass such a large collection? Which piece was the most difficult to obtain?

Amassing my KAWS collection took quite a bit of effort, to the tune of taking a career break from interactive media development for over two years to work on building it. Taking on collecting like a business, I brokered a lot of art sales, in that time, including many out of the collection I had assembled of other artists. After paying my bills, the profits mostly went right into acquiring KAWS original works – with the idea of creating a more retrospective type of holding, with plenty of the rarest vintage renditions in place. I was able to create a certain amount of visibility amongst the art community, as a vocal supporter of KAWS’ work – I was perceived as someone who’d called a shot and put their money where their mouth was. Especially online, I met a lot of fellow collectors who turned to me for help, when wanting to buy or sell a KAWS piece. I ended up buying numerous pieces from other collectors.

The piece most difficult to obtain is a tough question because most serious art collectors now know that it’s very hard to collect KAWS artwork, in general, mainly due to the low supply. The old saying rings true that goes ‘even if you have the money, you may not find someone willing to sell it to you’. Every piece has a story. But if I had to pin down a particular piece, it would be the bronze Accomplice sculpture. To purchase it, I traveled from my home in LA to OriginalFake in Tokyo.

Which piece is your favorite? Why?

To name my favorite piece is very difficult, but I am going to have to stick with a sculpture, though I truly love all the paintings. The KAWS Astroboy sculpture is a masterpiece I’m thrilled to view at any moment. The hand-painted, resin sculpture is sublime. Astroboy was my favorite cartoon character as a child, so KAWS’ disrupted rendition is very close to me. Overall, I’m really pleased with the all the framing, done by one of the best in the world – Vandeuren. Each frame is a special custom-designed museum archival solution made with German stainless steel, hand-welded and brushed, using Optium acrylic. At 30+ kilos (65 lbs), it takes three people to move the large Houston St. Chum bus-stop, my favorite painting. My most personal piece is the KAWS certified edition Chum tattoo I got at Art Basel, Miami in 2007, as part of ‘As Long As It Lasts’.

Are there any items you’re still searching for? What would your dream KAWS work look like?

At the moment, I’m not searching for anything in particular. If I come across something that really fits into the collection in a unique way, I will try to make an effort to acquire it. My dream KAWS work would be a skull installation in a large open field, visible from space.

Which other artists interest you?

Banksy, James Jean, Erik Parker, Damien Hirst, Jacob Mickelson, Kris Kuksi, JR, Murakami, MinJun, etc. I have a collection that goes well beyond KAWS that isn’t as substantial or focused, pared down for a few years. But it’s growing again. I believe I’ll be building those collections more ambitiously at some point. I’ve had my hand in curating world-class art shows for Futura in LA and Dubai, but I find that appraising this type of art is increasingly a direction for me. I always dabble in private sales in the secondary market. I like to keep up with a wide variety of contemporary artists. Often, I’ll write about them on the blog I share with a friend, The Art Collectors.

What do you plan to do with your collection in the future? Will you ever sell/donate or do you see it staying in your family for generations.

With my first child coming in November – a son to be named Ryker – I am likely going to pass the tradition on. I’ll see if it blossoms into a mutual interest in the future. For the near term, I’d like to display the collection in public at a small museum, so that others can share in seeing an exhibit that represents a retrospective in KAWS works. I’ve been approached by many venues but I’d like for it to be enjoyed in a non-profit museum forum vs. a private-interest platform. I have no interest in selling it, despite being approached by several investment groups the last couple of years. The collection represents a highly personal statement for me, which also marks a particular point in time in history. My alma mater, Northwestern, is a place I will certainly keep in mind, when donating something later on in life. If my children spark to the collecting tradition, I can see The Pirovino Collection going forth generations.

Interview: Pete Williams
Photos: Brandon Shigeta

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