Canada’s Design Museum, is proud to present a series of firsts with its playful, unprecedented exhibition This Is Not A Toy, guest curated by music and fashion mogul Pharrell Williams. The first major original programming produced by DX. The first foray into museum curation for cultural connector Williams. The first time coveted artists, Brooklyn’s KAWS and Japan’s Takashi Murakami, have shown their work in a design museum. Dedicated to exploring the conceptual toy – a form made solely as an expression of an aesthetic or idea – as a fine art and design object, as well as a contemporary cultural signifier, This Is Not A Toy marks the first time these vibrant collectible sculptures, figures and paintings have collectively been on display in a museum setting.
On view from February 7 until May 19, 2014, the exhibition takes its name from the disclaimer found on packaging for objects that may be called toys, but aren’t meant for play. Ranging in price from just a few dollars to thousands more, these figures are part merchandise, part art. While the creators of these art toys may utilize technical methods of mass production, they do so in a way that produces variation, unique expression, and limited edition objects. Instigator and co-curator John Wee Tom and DX Associate Curator Sara Nickelson, along with Williams, present a tightly-edited presentation of work from over a dozen of the most prolific toy designers and contemporary fine artists in the collectibles category.
This Is Not A Toy transforms DX’s Exhibition Hall into a candy-coloured space evoking genuine happiness through exuberant, imaginative works. Visitors absorb a multi-faceted sensory experience, as they are immersed in a vibrant world filled with music, video, and vinyl via iPad Air, iPad mini with Retina display and iMac. Listen to in-depth interviews with artists such as KAWS, Huck Gee and Frank Kozik, see stop-motion videos created by fans of Kidrobot figures, and get an exclusive look at how vinyl toys are made and customized. The showstopper, The Simple Things, is a striking sculpture created by a trio of trailblazing creatives: Williams, Murakami and Jacob Arabo, a.k.a. “Jacob the Jeweler”. The fiberglass, metal and steel head features a wide grin that reveals blinged-out ordinary objects, including a Pepsi can, a cupcake, and a Heinz ketchup bottle. First unveiled during Art Basel in 2009, The Simple Things has been exhibited at London’s Tate Museum, Paris’ Chateau de Versailles, Qatar’s Museum of Islamic Art, and now, Toronto’s Design Exchange.
Among the full spectrum of paintings and sculptures on view are: FriendsWithYou’s animated short film Cloudy and custom Rainbow Vortex; Misaki Kawai’s tactile, comb-able animal-shaped fur paintings; and prized items from Williams’ personal art collection, including Milo on Rocking Horse by Japanese fashion label A Bathing Ape; Be@rbrick representations of his Grammy-winning partners Daft Punk; and commissioned KAWS paintings that poke at pop culture, aptly named KAWSBOB 3 and KURFS (CROWD). Toronto’s art and design shop, Magic Pony, presents Pon Pon Pony Jam, featuring multifarious characters in their envisioned natural environment from international artists Devilrobots (JP), James Jarvis (UK), Junko Mizuno (JP), Michael Lau (HK), Nathan Jurevicius (AUS) and Pete Fowler (UK). This diverse group of creators is recognized as discernible pioneers within the designer toy field, communicating their visual philosophies through the unconventional medium of the art toy. Other contributing artists include Veteran neo-pop artist, Yoshitomo Nara, Huck Gee, Coarse, Frank Kozik, and Bill McMullen.
“The title of the exhibition, This is Not a Toy, is important to us since we never set out to make toys, we make purposeful sculptures and experiential art. We are extremely honoured to be a part of this exhibition, especially alongside artists like Murakami and KAWS, because their work resembles toys but they have much broader concepts. We want to speak to people through fine artwork and animism, for the purpose of helping people, healing people and self-empowerment.” – Samuel Albert Borkson and Arturo Sandoval III, FriendsWithYou
With its origins in 80s and 90s graffiti culture, the small release toy is an underground art form that at once represents rebellion and playfulness. At the same time a product of consumer culture and a defensible piece of art, these works both reject and appropriate familiar consumer imagery, and manipulate household names, cartoons and cultural icons. The result is a powerful one, shifting control from brand to artist and finally, to consumer. Some artists manipulate and leverage familiar visual communication as tribute or provocation, while others create their own original forms, characters and worlds to convey their ideas of a more affected existence.
This Is Not A Toy is on display at the Design Exchange from Friday, February 7th to Monday, May 19th, 2014.