Gateway Art: This is Not a Toy
The Exhibition: This is Not a Toy is currently showing at the Design Exchange in downtown Toronto. The exhibit was co-curated by musician Pharrell Williams and includes a large assortment of well… not toys. So if they’re not toys, what does that make them Art? Ya sure, but we’ll get to that a little later.
The collectible vinyl figurine trend started in the 90’s and has been gaining traction ever since. Designers and artists started putting out limited edition custom characters that appropriated all manner of pop culture ranging from Manga, to cartoon characters to the cult of celebrity. New York based Kidrobot revolutionized the collectible market with its introduction of the Dunny in 2004. Seen as a blank slate, artists were free to interpret the character in anyway they saw fit. Collectors soon came by the droves. Sold in closed boxes, you never knew exactly what you were going to get. Art as commerce that caters to the 99%.
This is Not a Toy does a good job displaying the range of custom collectibles from the gift store persuasion to the museum piece. With the exceptions of Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara, I would say most of the work displayed I would consider ‘soft art’ or ‘gateway art’. It is a nice gateway into harder or more difficult art, especially from a collecting point of view. Without breaking the bank, anyone can start an art collection.
Overall I enjoyed the show, but for the most part; conceptually it was really a one trick pony. More often than not, it followed the same formula of appropriating well known pop culture icons. The remix generation filtering the past and putting their own stamp on it. The chief culprit would have to be Kaws who features prominently in This is not a Toy. Kaws has been having a big year: from a balloon in the Macy’s parade to having his stamp on the MTV Music Awards to a high profile exhibition of his wooden sculptures at Mary Boone. I am a fan of his paintings, especially the ones that veer more into the purely abstract. His sculptures look great but leave nothing unsaid. They are engaging objects but fleeting ideas.
This is Not a Toy is on until May 19th.