It’s the stripes that get you—more specifically the black-and-white, floor-to-ceiling stripes that can be found in the main foyer of the Design Exchange’s second floor exhibition space. But it’s these stripes that masterfully prepare you for what’s about to come: a highly edited showcase of some of today’s most sought-after toys. Of course, these are no ordinary toys. In the DX’s latest exhibition: “This Is Not A Toy,” these are conceptual art objects du jour, with contemporary artists in the worlds of music, fashion, art and film lining up to transform these figurines of miniature and mammoth proportions into works of art.
The stripes continue, with bands of hot pink lining the floor and walls as you enter the main hall. Grammy award-winning musician and designer Pharrell Williams guest curates and supplies many of the pieces found within the 700-piece exhibit, who first discovered ‘designer toys’ in the late nineties in Japan. One look at Williams’ career and it’s easy to see how the musician seemingly embodies everything these toys represent—a 21st century mash-up of art, fashion, hip-hop and graffiti culture. In turn, Williams’ becomes the perfect ambassador to present viewers with one of the first comprehensive exhibits that begins to truly unpack this once niche pastime turned global phenomenon.
The strength of this exhibit is that both enthusiasts and neophytes will not be disappointed. Highlights include “The Simple Things,” a sculpture designed by Williams, Japanese artist Takashi Murakami and jeweler Jacob Arabo (it was previously displayed at London’s Tate Museum and Paris’s Chateau de Versailles). Also except the find a sort-of greatest hits collection with Miami-based FriendsWithYou art collective represented and pieces by American artist KAWS.
With “This Is Not a Toy,” it looks as though co-curator John Wee Tom and Williams may have achieved that all-too-elusive “let’s cater to all audiences” exhibit. As Wee Tom notes: “You don’t need an art history degree or design background to appreciate any of these small sculptures.” And it’s true, whether you’re a hard-core collector, or just passing by, at the very least you’ll leave with a smile.
CIS Presents: The Designer Toy Cheat Sheet
Need a crash course on everything designer toy related? We got you covered with our roundup of the most iconic toys on the market today.
The History Lesson:
Designer toys can be traced back to around 1997 when Hong Kong artist Michael Lau was the first to deconstruct and customize G.I. Joe dolls. Today, artists who work on designer toys are known as vinyl artists (as these toys are usually made from vinyl). Sometimes produced in all-while, artists are encouraged to customize and produce their own works of art.
The ‘Big’ Players:
1. Toy2r: Based in Hong-Kong and founded in 1995. Their first toy resembled a simplified human with a cartoon skull-head. It’s success lead to the now wildly popular Qee model.
2. Kidrobot: Founded in 2002 and specializing in artist-created toys that are imported from all over the world, most items are produced in limited numbers and become collectables.
3. FriendsWithYou: An art collective based in Los Angeles founded by the Samuel Albert Borkson and Arturo Sandoval III, the two began by creating soft sculptures meant to resemble plush toys. Today, they are best known for their large-scale art installations.
4. Amos Toys: Founded by British illustrator James Amos Jarvis in 2002, the company is known for their ‘generic’ characters and also publishes ‘zines and comic books.
5. MediCom Toy: Best known for their Be@rbrick and Kubrick designs, MediCom has collaborated with an impressive number of artists, musicians and fashion designers including KAWS, Karl Lagerfeld, Disney and Daft Punk
6. Tokidoki: Created in 2005 by Italian artist Simone Legno, in addition to toys the brand manufactures apparel, footwear and accessories. Past collaborations have included Hello Kitty, Barbie, Levi’s and Be@rbrick.
7. Uglydolls: This line of plush toys actually began as a long distance letter between co-creators David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim with an aim to re-define the word “ugly” to mean something unique and special.
8. Muttpop: Founded in 2005, the company specializes in artist-produced toys in the Lucha Libre collection.