THIS IS NOT A TOY: An Exploration of Urban Vinyl as Design and Art Form
Pharrell Williams Guest Curates First Large-Scale Designer Toy Exhibition
at the Design Exchange
Photo Credit: Terry Richardson
On February 7th, 2014, Canada's Design Museum, the Design Exchange (DX) launches the world's first ever large-scale exhibition dedicated to urban vinyl as contemporary art. On display until May 18th 2014, visitors dive headfirst into the realm of designer "toys" as the Exhibition Hall is transformed into a life-size dream world, filled with figurines ranging from tiny trinkets to enormous free-standing pieces. World-renowned international works, including some from the collaborations and personal collection of singer, songwriter and producer Pharrell Williams, beg for examination and exploration.
"Pharrell personifies this century's renaissance man. His influence on music, fashion, design and contemporary art is profound. From penning and performing 2013's hottest songs to the furniture he designed for Emmanuel Perrotin Gallery, to his BBC/Ice Cream streetwear, he is truly ubiquitous. But it was his amorous relationship with urban vinyl and contemporary art that precipitated this collaboration with the DX... I am thrilled to host another first for the Design Exchange, Canada's Design Museum." - Shauna Levy, President of the DX
This Is Not A Toy takes its name from the disclaimer found on packaging for objects geared to adults or which might be harmful to young children - they may be called toys, but they are not intended for play. With roots in late 1980s graffiti culture, the subversive and cult-like art form of urban vinyl is as rebellious as it is fun. Lying at the intersection of fine art, marketing, pop culture, product and graphic design, toys are highly collectible objects for a post-Pop world, often selling from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars.
PLAY & EXPERIENCE
This Is Not A Toy, conceived and co-curated by John Wee Tom, co-founder of the Templar Hotel, with DX Associate Curator, Sara Nickleson and American music and fashion icon, Pharrell Williams, features works that demonstrate conceptual sophistication, rigour and execution.
L to R: Sushi & Octo by Huck Gee; False Friends by Coarse; Superflat Museum by Takashi Murakami; Passage by Coarse
Urban vinyl in numbers:
- 1,000 - the original release price, in dollars, of Yoshitomo Nara's Sleepless Nights Sitting in 2007
- 50,000 - the Buy It Now price, in dollars, on eBay for Yoshitomo Nara's Sleepless Nights Sitting
- 26,000 - the number of diamonds and gems that cover seven white, yellow and rose forms of Pharrell's everyday essentials, as part of The Simple Things: the six foot sculpture created by Takashi Murakami, Pharrell Williams and Jacob the Jeweler in 2009
- 1998 - generally recognized as year zero of the urban vinyl scene
- 500 - the number of three inch production Kidrobot Dunnys - every single edition produced - that will be assembled behind a glassed-in display wall for This Is Not A Toy
- 13 - the number of designer toys acquired in 2008 by the Museum of Modern Art for their permanent collection
8 - the height in feet of a monumental AD-AT sculpture to be unveiled by Bill McMullen, commemorating the 10th anniversary of the original release of his Star Wars AD-AT Walker X Adidas Shelltoe shoe mash-up toy
3 - the number of larger-than-life plush pieces from DOMA that will be at the DX, including Master Control (left - a gang of four giant creatures); Stupid Tank (middle - a stuffed tank with a long cannon that can be tied in knots and wrapped around fixtures, people, architecture and columns); and Carne (right - a butcher shop-style display of hanging stuffed toy meat cuts)
"These are toys in name only. They play with perceptions, imagination and expectations of what a toy is. They lure you in with their design and personality, touching on a memory from your childhood or some other intuitive emotion while revealing - or concealing - their true nature. You don't need an art history degree or design background to appreciate these small sculptures - everyone 'gets' them because of their accessible aesthetic qualities. But unlike ordinary toys, they also have something for the sophisticated designer or art critic because of their underlying, subliminal messages. They're just cool - for kids, adults, jaded teens, hipsters, grandparents, fashionistas, musicians, designers, artists and culture hounds alike." - John Wee Tom, Exhibition Initiator and Co-Curator
Video screens and projections will accompany the displays, showcasing the development of the movement by comparing contemporary works. Expect interviews with designers along with related fashion and music content that complement the culture.
With popularity beginning in Japan and Hong Kong, the movement has travelled west and this medium of creative expression has attracted prominent artists from around the world. The designs created within this realm range dramatically, from representations of renowned fashion designers like Vivienne Westwood to (pop-culture icons from Star Wars to the work of artists from all disciplines and backgrounds).
International heavyweights inject the show with iconic characters and highly charged pieces. Works by New York-based graffiti-turned-painting-and-sculpture artist Brian Donnelly, known as KAWS, (provide the axis for critical discourse on the accessibility of art, art as consumer product and the positioning of so-called lowbrow art within the contemporary art context). FriendsWithYou, a fine art collaborative of Samuel Borkson and Arturo Sandoval III, aim to spread the positive message of Magic, Luck, and Friendship™ through colourful paintings, sculpture, large-scale experiential installations, public playgrounds, and more.
Additional artists on display include:
Takashi Murakami, Yoshitomo Nara, DOMA, Misaki Kawai, Bill McMullen, Frank Kozik, Coarse, Huck Gee, and other influential toy artists, plus producers Kidrobot and Medicom.
The Canadian component includes custom toys by:
Douglas Coupland, Castor Design, Bruno Billio, Bruce Mau Design, Julie Moon, Sid Lee Collective, Doublenaut Design, Team Macho, Rhed and Blok Design.
"Increasingly, contemporary artists are creating products without compromising their vision or body of work. The toy may come first but it doesn't take long before fans are attending gallery openings of new sculpture and painting. These small objects welcome people into an art world that they once felt had no place for them." - Sara Nickelson, DX Associate Curator
Designer toys are made in limited editions, the best often scooped up by collectors at record prices. This Is Not A Toy aims to highlight these coveted pieces, otherwise only viewable in private homes by friends and family. Contributors include Pharrell Williams with his The Simple Things, Canadian fashion icon Jeanne Beker, owner of Toronto's 'Lost and Found' Jonathan Elias, Nicolas Caldas from Puerto Rico, and co-curator, John Wee Tom aka Johnnyvinyl.
With a goal of raising $75,000 from November 26th to December 26th, 2013, this is the first time that a crowd-funding platform has been used to raise funds for an exhibition of this scale by a public institution in Canada. The Kickstarter platform was chosen because of its metrics and demographics: its audience comprises the very same tech-savvy, social-media hungry, pop-culture vulture audience with a taste for the new that are typically fans and collectors of urban vinyl.
A giant glass structure will be designed to house more than 100 blank Kidrobot Munnys, each toy representing one person who has donated to the exhibition's Kickstarter campaign at the $500 and $1,000 tiers. Over the run of the four month exhibition, visitors will have a turn to shoot a paint ball gun at the group, creating a continuously-changing design. At the end of the exhibition, each unique figure will be sent to their respective donor - the Kickstarter reward created for supporters of the exhibition BY visitors of the exhibition along with curators Sara Nickleson and John Wee Tom with interactivity artists Eliot Callahan and Andrew Lovett-Barron.
At the next donation tier ($1,500), a component of the rewards package includes one of 10 custom 18" Munny designs, created by Canada's top designers and architects, as listed above. The first person to donate at this level will receive the first pick of the custom Munnys to take home, with the other nine donors following suit.
DESIGN EXCHANGE (DX): EXPERIENCE DESIGN AT CANADA'S DESIGN MUSEUM
Established in 1994, the Design Exchange (DX) is Canada's only museum dedicated exclusively to the pursuit of design excellence and preservation of design heritage. At a crossroads of multiple disciplines, from furniture and architecture to graphics and fashion, DX exhibitions and talks are curated to reflect the popular zeitgeist and contemporary culture, while demonstrating the relevancy and importance of design to everyday life. Under the leadership of President, Shauna Levy, and a renewed strategic vision beginning March 2012, the DX has hosted renowned traveling exhibitions from prestigious cultural institutions across the globe, including Stefan Sagmeister's The Happy Show from the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia and the Christian Louboutin retrospective from Design Museum London. Educating and awareness-building from its downtown Toronto location in the historic and original Toronto Stock Exchange building, the non-profit charity attracts thousands of visitors of all ages each year.