Tuesday, October 28, 2008


We went to a toy show here in Detroit this weekend. It's hard to describe the art toy movement to someone who hasn't seen these things before. Needless to say, this is not exactly what most people think of when they hear "toy show". Frankly, I wasn't sure what to expect either. Ross and I look at art toys in our local comic shop. Ross has started a small collection of his own. He just ordered this crocodile, which is totally awesome. But since this is really Ross's hobby, I hadn't looked at any of the lead up to the show, and I didn't really know what to expect.

Poster originally found here

The idea behind the show was to get a range of artists to all riff on the same toy blank (a plain white vinyl toy that can be reshaped and painted). The poster above has a picture of the blank that all of the artists used. One of the most interesting things for me to see was how different artists used the blank. Some of the artists basically used the blank as is:

Others modified it, while more or less sticking to the form of the blank:

And still others modified it practically beyond recognition:

Some of them more or less ignored the form of the blank. I was less impressed by that. The artistry on these two was amazing, but it seems lame to just ignore the form of the canvas you are given:

Some of the artistry was just amazing:

I was surprised at how many women were present. I was expecting to be one of the only women in the place, but it was maybe 1/3 women in all. I was even more surprised to see how many of the toys seemed to be geared towards/produced by women:

My two favorites were on opposite ends of the price spectrum.

The balloon on the top was one of least expensive items there ($220). I couldn't believe that it was priced so much lower than some of the other, much less inspiring pieces. The Fortune Teller below was one of the most expensive ($1400), but priced well. I think that it was the first one sold. Notice that the fortune coming out of the fortune-teller's mouth says "You will live happily until Wednesday". Brilliant.

There was, in general, a disparity between the prices of the pieces and my perception of their value. The most expensive pieces were not always my favorites, and yet...well...they were more expensive. It's not that the pieces in the $1000-1400 range weren't good. It's just that some of the pieces in the sub-$1000 range were just as good. Ross filled me in--it turns out that some of the most expensive pieces were done by people who are famous within the (admittedly small) designer toy community. That was really interesting, because as an outsider to the community, those things didn't really mean anything to me. I was only aware of what I saw in front of me. It reminds me of how important it is to think critically about my opinions, and not rely on names. Ross and I have gotten some great pieces of art over the years by looking at the people whose name nobody recognizes. Yet.

By the way, if you enjoyed the pictures in this post, you can find the rest of my photos from the show in this flickr set, including many photos of pieces that I loved, but didn't fit in this post.


Althea said...

These objects look really cool, but it would never have occurred to me to call them "toys" instead of just art. What's the criteria here to be considered a toy?

Matt Largo said...

Yeah, I really don't see the guy who shells out six hundred dollars for one of these things letting his kid pit the thing against his Doctor Octopus action figure. The word "toy" seems bizarrely misapplied, owing more to the childlike nature of the figure itself than its purpose. It's straddling the line between pop-art and art-art, if not being the line itself.

rco said...

It's a pretty broad spectrum, which I'd say ranges from some of the nicer commercial toys to vinyl figures produced in smaller runs (like a few hundred), to resin figures cast in smaller runs (tens), to the customs that we saw at Lift. Basically, they're all toy-sized, made of some kind of plastic -- toy is a convenient enough term for the whole lot.