September 26, 2008

A SPACE ODYSSEY

Installation artist Misaki Kawai’s colorful world is filled with walruses, surfers, dollhouses, and just a little bit of porn

By Kate Williams

Misaki Kawai’s apartment building looks like thousands of others in Brooklyn: brick, beige, and vaguely industrial. Inside, though, Kawai’s loft is like Pee-Wee’s Playhouse—paint-splattered, trippy, and full of enough not-quite-imaginary friends to throw a mad tea party at a moment’s notice.

In the entryway, two papier-mâché and painted bikini-clad women, one about eight feet tall, hang on the wall. A walrus sits in Kawai’s studio, and in another corner, a four-foot wave crests, ridden by a tiny surfer with a mop of furry-hair. The walls are covered with paintings, the floor with drips, and handmade instruments hang above the doorway.

When I arrive at Kawai’s on a weekday, she and her boyfriend, photographer Justin Waldron, are both exhausted but excited. Kawai has work I Won’t Grow Up, a group show opening tomorrow at New York’s Cheim and Read Gallery that also includes Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, and Louise Bourgeois. They’ve been up all night preparing, and turned her pieces over to the gallery just minutes before I arrive.
“I just finished four hours ago,” Kawai says. “I’ve been sleeping until 3pm, but today, I am going to try and sleep at night and not in the afternoon.” While Kawai’s work may look like delightful child’s play, her work ethic belies the serious artist that she is. She exhibited in 18 shows in 2007, and by summer 2008, has already been in eight shows in New York, Los Angeles, Taipei, and Tokyo.

Originally from Osaka, Japan, Kawai went to art school in Kyoto. “I didn’t want to work for a design company or something like that, so I was just tr