Is Justin Bieber the Anonymous Buyer of the Record-Setting KAWS Painting? Here’s Why We Beliebe.

When news broke that a new auction record had been set for KAWS, whose painting THE KAWS ALBUM (2005) sold for $14.8 million at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong this week—nearly 15 times the high estimate and more than five times his previous record of $2.7 million—we were thinking the same thing you were.

Justin Bieber bought this. Right?

The rumor mill began whirring quickly. What kind of person would spend nearly $15 million on a painting of the Simpsons with Xes for eyes? Twitter quickly jumped to the obvious conclusion. Only a 25-year-old Canadian Pop superstar could possibly have been smart enough to pull this off.

… right?

Justin Bieber performs in Hong Kong, June 11, 2015. (Photo by Jerome Favre/Getty Images for Calvin Klein)

Honestly, it wouldn’t have been the most eyebrow-raising thing about the “NIGOLDENEYE® Vol. 1” auction, which offered items from the personal collection of Japanese streetwear mogul Tomoaki Nagao, known as NIGO.

Every single one of the 33 lots sold for at least twice its high estimate, with KAWS’s name attached to 23 works. The numbers are eye-wateringly high—two sets of BAPE X KAWS sneakers that carried a high estimate of $191 sold for 83 times that, fetching almost $16,000 each.

But we know why you’re here. You want to talk about Bieber. And we want to talk about him too.

He wouldn’t be the first music mogul to set a record for an artist at auction. But he might just be the most elusive. Though we applied our most rigorous reporting skills to track down confirmation of Bieber’s bid, his representatives at Scooter Braun’s agency and two other smaller outfits did not respond to requests for comment. We even signed up for a lifetime of spam from a company called RocketReach in an effort to get another email address for one of his longtime publicists, to no avail. Skarstedt, the gallery that represents KAWS, did not respond to comment by press time, and representatives at Sotheby’s declined to comment.

Luckily for us, the internet is littered with breadcrumbs that seem to point to Justin. So we’ve laid it all out below, just be-KAWS. So without further ado…

1. His Eyes Were on Hong Kong

On March 28, the Biebster announced that his apparel label Drew House was staging an impromptu pop-up shop in Central Hong Kong to coincide with Art Basel. While we cannot confirm that he was in the city himself, he would’ve been tuned in to the hot tickets in town. The shop was dubbed “Drew House Video Store,” and featured bucket hats, hotel-room slippers, and hoodies stacked alongside retro VHS tapes and movie posters—all emblazoned with the company’s trademark yellow smiley face.

Justin’s Instagram post, commented on by both Sotheby’s (who sold the painting) and KAWS (who made it).

2. Instagram Official

Just eight hours after the Sotheby’s sale closed, Bieber posted an image of THE KAWS ALBUM to his personal Instagram, with no caption. A cursory glance at the 5,738 comments revealed that Sotheby’s posted a red heart emoji, and KAWS chimed in with the emoji-equivalent of “thanks, bro”—hands praying in thanks, and a peace sign.

Instagram images of Justin posing with “Companion” by KAWS.

3. He Already Owns KAWS’s Work

Justin actually owns at least one KAWS artwork! An Internet deep dive reveals a 2014 selfie showing Justin with his arm around a Companion sculpture with a caption thanking his longtime manager Scooter Braun—was it a gift? Is Scooter a collector? That much is unclear. But cross-referencing social feeds led us to confirm the existence of the work in situ, thanks to self-proclaimed “Brand Innovator” Steven Gomillion, who snapped Justin at home with the work in 2018.

From left: Justin in his Simpsons cameo, and two works by Stefano Monda.

4. He Stans for The Simpsons

Justin is a longtime fan of the animated sitcom The Simpsons; in 2012 he made a cameo on the “Fabulous Faker Boys” episode in which he played himself, back in his pre-tattoo, floppy hair days. He’s also shared two artworks by beloved Instagram artist Stefano Monda, who has immortalized Justin and his wife Hailey Bieber (née Baldwin) as Springfield-dwelling characters.

Justin’s X-themed tattoos and merchandise. Courtesy of Instagram.

5. X Marks the Spot

Justin’s highly-inked arms include two cartoonish figures with x’ed out eyes, bearing a striking resemblance to KAWS’s signature, and even Justin’s Drew House merchandise has appropriated the aesthetic.

We rest our case.

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