From collectable toys to art pieces: Art Toys
We review the history of these collectables and some of their most emblematic artists
BY SÍLVIA RABASCALL
You've probably seen them everywhere, but where did it all begin? As you probably imagine, it was in Tokyo, in the Harajuku neighbourhood. Twenty years ago, at the Bounty Hunter store, designer Hikaru Iwanaga sold small plastic figures called Kid Hunter - a figure inspired by the image of Cap'n Crunch cereals - that became the most fashionable item of the moment. Inspired by this phenomenon, the artist and designer Paul Budnitz founded Kidrobot in 2002, what symbolizes the kick-off of the designer toys. Progressively these figures, mainly vinyl, have been entering the world of the contemporary art market before the critical eye of many, until last year, when some works were auctioned for prices that reached over one million dollars. Some figures created by Budnitz were even added to the permanent collection of MoMA in 2008, and many artists known mainly in other fields have set out to create their own vinyl figures, as is the case of the prestigious artist Takashi Murakami, with limited editions of his alter-ego Mr DOB.
The idea is basically to create a product that is attractive to the buyer and make it exclusive by producing it in limited editions. You can make different versions of all sizes, also in other materials than vinyl such as bronze, wood or fibreglass to make them even more special. Collaborations between artists or designers from other areas are also very popular, as is the case of the Be@brick, the base of which reminds us of the toy for excellence, a teddy bear, but that creates its products in collaborations with designers, artists or licensed characters like the Simpsons to get attention.
If there is an artist who is breaking it at the moment, that is KAWS. Brian Donnelly, originally an artist of graffiti and mural painting, was known in the street art world for his way of painting the fashion advertising panels with his iconic XX symbol. The revolution began in 1999 with the first appearance of his 'Companions', figures inspired by Mickey Mouse. Over the years its popularity has only grown, and in 2017, MoMA Design Store put on sale a series of versions of its 'Companions' of a little less than 30 cm high for 200 dollars a piece, and the generated traffic saturated the server causing the web page to go down. One of the things that makes him so popular is his approach to the art market. You can find works of all sizes, from small to colossal - like their prices - as well as collaborations with clothing brands such as Vans or Uniqlo. The artist's idea is that anyone can have a KAWS, from a 20 dollars shirt to a limited edition worth 1 million. His secret is to work with different materials and forms, but always about universal themes of visual culture easily recognizable by anyone.
There is still a lot of discussion in the contemporary art world about whether they can be considered art or not, but what is clear is that they represent an approach between art and pop culture that street art has not able to do before. Be that as it may, the Art Toys have come to stay.