Ronnie K. Pirovino has been collecting KAWS artwork and collectibles since 2003, amassing one of the world’s largest KAWS collections. He is also an active member of the contemporary art community, appraising collections and curating exhibitions from Los Angeles to Dubai.
In anticipation of Heritage Auctions’ March 6 Urban Art & Supreme Featuring The Collection of Madchild Fine Art Online Auction, we sat down with Pirovino and discussed his favorite works, most memorable moments and the future of KAWS.
Heritage Auctions: You have one of the largest KAWS collections. What sparked your interest in KAWS, and how did you start collecting?
Ronnie K. Pirovino: After seeing a pivotal Warhol retrospective at MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) L.A., I began thinking about collecting art. I was deeply impressed by the number of works displayed belonging to private collections.
With KAWS, it was a life-changing Saturday that I walked into Eric Nakamura’s store/gallery, GR2, in L.A. – finding the Companion. This comical yet menacing image, based on Mickey, just struck a visceral chord. Buying the Companion toy that day was the start of the whole journey. It was like an answer to a question I didn’t even know was there.
Heritage Auctions: What is your favorite piece in your collection?
Pirovino: It has to be the original Astroboy sculpture. It’s KAWS’ first fine art sculpture. Nigo bought most of them when he had a show in Tokyo for KAWS at the BAPE Gallery in 2002. The seminal sculptures are all different hand-painted colors in a series of 13. My 6-year-old son, Ryker, loves it as his “fave,” too! My 4-year-old daughter, Klara, loves the pink Accomplice bunny most of all.
Heritage Auctions: How has KAWS’ market grown since you began collecting? Where do you see it going?
Pirovino: The market has grown tremendously since I started collecting, while also becoming more complicated. Though bootlegs plague today’s collector, it is still a great time to assemble a collection. I see the market maturing to the point of having a sustainable spectrum of collectors – the strata within the market is quite wide, from low to high. Provenance will be increasingly valuable, perhaps ultimately definitive. Too many bootlegs are out there, along with ignorant or downright negligent sellers to not collect with due caution.
Heritage Auctions: You have worked on a lot of cool projects as an art appraiser, private dealer and curator. What has been your most memorable moment?
Pirovino: My most memorable moment thus far is actually hard to pinpoint. I have truly enjoyed collecting art as a pursuit in itself. I’ve also made many great friends along the way. I’d say my most memorable moment is making the decision to effectively dedicate some large part of my life to art.
Heritage Auctions: If you could bid on three works in our upcoming urban art auction, which lots would you pick and why?
Pirovino: One, I’d go for the Chum print because it’s one of KAWS’ earliest iconic prints; killer image. Two, all the Companions, especially the pristine set of 1999s. I believe the set of ’99s is currently the most undervalued among the toys; they are KAWS’ first figures. Three, the Karimoku BE@RBRICK – it’s among the most beautiful small wood works and a major clue to the future larger, and monumental wood sculptures by KAWS being produced today.
Heritage Auctions: What advice would you give to young collectors?
Pirovino: To the young collectors, seriously expect to put time into the “game.” Today, it’s easy to be fooled or conned. Find someone with a sterling, long-established reputation – no fly-by-night sellers who make bold claims. Be methodical in researching your subject and its reliable sources. And, I’ll mention that I love working with collectors in realizing their aims. I invite those who are making a goal to establish a collection to get in touch. I’m accessible on Instagram as @pirovino.
Heritage Auctions: Who are some artists to watch in 2018?
Pirovino: I love so many artists, as my collecting journey has opened me up to all sorts of new stuff. I’ll tell you who I’m avidly collecting or seriously seeking: Jonas Wood, Jennifer Guidi, Daniel Arsham, Erik Parker, Avery Singer, Johnny Abrahams, Marcel Dzama, Jonni Cheatwood and Nina Chanel. There’s more – many more!
Highlights from Heritage Auctions’ Urban Art & Supreme Fine Art Auction, featuring The Collection of Madchild, will be on display March 1-2 and 5-6 at 445 Park Ave., New York, NY 10022. The auction begins at 4 p.m. CST, March 6, on HA.com.
Written by: Katya Khazei