5 Fuzzy, Life-Size And Inflatable Reasons Why Toys Are Indeed Art

Dec 18, 2013

We've long awaited the day when toys will hang on museum walls, demanding the same attention as works on paper or canvas. The artistic privileging of the serious over the silly -- in our eyes, anyway -- is overrated. So we're happy to report this fateful day appears to be on its way, thanks to "This Is Not A Toy," a playful Toronto exhibition currently fundraising on Kickstarter.


'Passage' by Coarse, detail (credit: Coarse)

The exhibition's title riffs off Rene Magritte's "The Treachery of Images (This is Not a Pipe)," a piece that explores the space between a thing, the lingual description of the thing, and the artistic representation of the thing. Marcel Duchamp's "Fountain" also comes to mind, challenging artists to invite any object into the category of art with the proper presentation.

With similar conceptual rigor, "This Is Not A Toy" plays with the boundaries between an aesthetic object and a consumer object, and the ability of white walls and museum labels to blur said boundaries.

That being said, the curated art toys don't need to be in a museum setting to qualify as art. Anyone who's ever seen the playful perfection of a Takashi Murakami figure, felt the unsettling aftertaste of a KAWS creature or experienced the irrational elation of a FriendsWithYou installation knows that.


'Companion' by KAWS (credit: Reynard Li and Derek Shapton)

The proper name for their particular breed is "urban vinyl," which designates the hybrid forms as somewhere between novelty toy and coveted masterpiece. "Urban vinyl is a genre of toys that are not toys," explains co-curator John Wee Tom in the Kickstarter video below. "They are toys that lie at the intersection of art and product, they are toys that are not meant to be played with. And finally, they're art that plays with the expectation of what a toy is."

Artists including KAWS, Murakami, Yoshitomo Nara and FriendsWithYou have edged the unconventional art objects into the mainstream art world, though public museums and institutions have yet to embrace this democratized art arena. That's where "This Is Not A Toy" comes in.

Design Exchange, Canada's design museum, is one of the first institutions to coordinate an entire exhibition on urban vinyl and its implications on art and design. The exhibition, featuring work from the artists listed above along with a wider selection of toy-centric creatives, bridges the gap between art and life, appreciation and play, in a museum setting.


'Stupid Tank' by DOMA (credit: DOMA)

"The exhibition itself is designed like a dreamland," explained curator Sara Nickleson. "There will be massive inflatable sculptures, life-size pieces, video projections." Basically, it sounds like an exhibition you might have dreamed up as an incredibly cultured six-year-old. Honorary art world elite Pharrell Williams co-curated the exhibition, adding his iconic taste, personal collection and cultural relevance to the mix.

The curatorial team is currently raising funds for the exhibition on Kickstarter, hoping to reach their $75,000 goal by December 26. They had already reached $14,685 at the time of publication. Check out the Kickstarter page to learn more.


'Fur Paintng' by Misaki Kawai (credit: Sara Nickleson)


'Penelope the Heavy Trooper' by Huck Gee (credit: Huck Gee)