A blue vinyl toy, crafted from alloy and ceramics and featuring eyes embedded with a set of LED lights operated by two CR2 batteries, functions as a glow-in-the-dark lamp. KAWS dropped jaws in 2016 when he debuted a new character at the Central Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand: a 26-foot tall, bright blue character called BFF. Like the artist’s ubiquitous Companion figures, BFF has Xed-out eyes, gloved hands, and enormous ears.

The 2018 incarnation of the blue BFF, seated on a pedestal, epitomizes folk art in that it’s rooted in tradition and exemplifies the aesthetics of our culture.

It’s fitting that KAWS donated Seeing (2018) to For Folk’s Sake! Contemporary Artists x the American Folk Art Museum, an online auction presented in partnership with Artsy. The benefit features works donated by contemporary artists who celebrate a strong bond with AFAM, promote its mission, and rely on its collection and exhibitions for inspiration. Proceeds from the sale  between October 8 and October 22 will help to bolster the museum’s educational programs and exhibitions, and help to maintain free access to its online resources, archives, and library.

“There are great things happening at the museum and I am happy to contribute a work in support of AFAM’s programs, exhibitions, and mission,” said KAWS, an AFAM Trustee.

Bisa Butler, Mark Dion, Marcel Dzama, Jenny Holzer, Chris Martin, Javier Piñón, Duke Riley, Faith Ringgold, William Wegman, Polly Apfelbaum, Fred Tomaselli, Laurie Simmons, Matt Dillon, John Lurie, Erik Parker, Swoon, Cary Leibowitz, Barry Yusufu, and James Siena, are among some 100 artists contributing artworks to the auction.

“The American Folk Art Museum was the first cultural institution I joined when I moved to New York over a decade ago. I was inspired by the beauty of the collection, the complexity of the works, and I was fascinated and motivated by the stories of the self-taught artists, and the history of the pieces in the museum’s permanent collection,” said Charles Snider, a renowned art appraiser, and ardent long-time supporter of AFAM as a Folk Art Circle member. “I have also found friendships through the American Folk Art Museum, and some of my favorite and most memorable New York City nights began with a special event hosted by the American Folk Art Museum.”

Another highlight is Alonzo Adams’ brilliantly colorful large-scale portrait Dream Big (2020), which delivers a much-needed message for our collective social struggle. Born on Christmas Eve 1961 in Harlem, New York, Adams grew up in Plainfield, New Jersey, where he lives and works, pouring emotion onto his lively canvases with oils, watercolors, and pencil. His wide-ranging works borrow from Rembrandt and African American masters including Charles White, Jacob Lawrence, and Romare Bearden.

“The American Folk Art Museum has been a place of safe refuge for outsider artists and folk artists for years,” said Butler. “It is a place where we can see Americana crafts in a museum setting and know that the art is respected. I am thankful that I can contribute to an institution like AFAM and I hope that it continues to open doors for many years to come.”

A standout work is Claudia DeMonte’s Sei Mani (2016), a dazzling enamel and mixed media on wood figure. Born in Astoria, New York, DeMonte is highly regarded for her exploration of contemporary women’s roles around the world. Now based in New York City and Kent, Connecticut, DeMonte’s work is deeply inspired by her travels to more than 80 countries.

The auction consists of new and previously displayed works on paper and canvas, ceramics, prints, photography, textiles, and mixed-media constructions, including some created for the benefit.

“Since its inception, the American Folk Art Museum has enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with contemporary artists, including collaborations with Andy Warhol, Paula Rego, Paa Joe, and Grayson Perry. This partnership with Artsy continues that tradition,” said Jason T. Busch, Director of AFAM. “The funds raised through the auction will help us continue our work to be a diverse, accessible, equitable, and inclusive museum.”

The American Folk Art Museum has been the leading institution guiding the understanding of art by the self-taught through its exhibitions, publications, and educational programs since 1961.