Ronnie Pirovino at his Salt Lake City home, with his original painting “Hitman” by contemporary artist Jonas Wood. “Wood’s work is going out of control right now,” Pirovino says.

KAWS Célèbre


By Katya Khazei
Portrait by Melinda Jae

The Urban Art scene is reaching new levels. Just ask Ronnie Pirovino, who’s been collecting Kaws figures and artwork since 2003, amassing one of the world’s largest collections.


Definitive Kaws: The Toy Collection of Ronnie Pirovino
Nov. 7, 2018
Leon Benrimon

One sign of the category’s popularity? Knock-offs.


Pirovino’s Kaws collection, which includes this Astro Boy figure, sculpted and hand-painted by the artist in 2003, has been called one of the world’s largest.

“The bootleg situation is very explosive and the market at all levels is struggling to navigate through,” says Pirovino, an appraiser and art show organizer who lives in Salt Lake City. One way to buy safely is to buy from an auction house, which authenticates and confirms provenance before items are offered to collectors.

“This is one of the reasons I am selling the toys,” Pirovino says of upcoming auctions featuring pieces from his collection. “I’d like to give collectors the best opportunity to obtain older work without worry.”

We talked to Pirovino to discuss his favorite works, most memorable moments and the artist known as Kaws (Brian Donnelly), who began his career as a graffiti artist and today is a rock star of the art world.

What sparked your interest in Kaws?
After seeing a pivotal Warhol retrospective at MOCA [Museum of Contemporary Art] in Los Angeles, 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 Los Angeles – finding [Kaws’] 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.

What is your favorite piece in your collection?
It has to be the original Astro Boy sculpture [pictured]. It’s Kaws’ first fine-art sculpture. [Japanese fashion designer] 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!

How has the Kaws market grown since you began collecting and where do you see it going?
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.

What advice would you give to young collectors?
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.

Who are some artists to watch in 2018?
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 are more – many more!

KATYA KHAZEI is a marketing assistant at Heritage Auctions. This story appears in the Fall 2018 edition of The Intelligent Collector magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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