Design Exchange (DX), Canada’s Design Museum, opens its playful exhibition “This is Not A Toy,” guest curated by musician and entrepreneur Pharrell Williams, today until May 19, 2014. (If you’ve seen his Miami penthouse on HGTV’s FrontDoor.com, then you know he loves his designer toys.)
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-colored space evoking genuine happiness through exuberant, imaginative works. The exhibition will even feature prized items from Williams’ personal art collection.
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.