Is urban vinyl the next growth trend in popular art to emerge from Asia and sweep across the world?
Though it has not yet transitioned to the world of fine art, the genre is reminiscent of Takashi Murakami’s plastics. Popular, collectible and apparently recession-proof, this is a promising area for appropriation by cash-crunched fine art businesses. An interesting piece about the exploding popularity of art toys has just been published in the Taipei Times on the occasion of the Taipei Toy Festival. Here are some excerpts:
What are art toys?
The terms designer toy, art toy and urban vinyl are often used interchangeably because many of the figures are created by artists or graphic designers, influenced by street art and style, and made from high-quality plastic or vinyl in limited runs.
The art toy movement – where did it start and who started it?
The birth of the designer toy trend is commonly attributed to Michael Lau, a Hong Kong artist who in the late 1990s began making limited-edition vinyl figures based on a comic he had created. The trend quickly spread through Asia and then on to the rest of the world.
What is the top art toy event?
Since 2004 the Taipei Toy Festival, which is the largest convention in Asia dedicated exclusively to art toys rings together an international coterie of toy makers and distributors.
More than 200 designers made an appearance at Huashan Culture Park, where the 2009 edition was held in early July, more than double the approximately 80 designers who attended in 2008.
Jen Huang (黃仁壽), founder of toy distributor Monster Taipei (台北怪獸), launched the Taipei Toy Festival as a networking event for designers in Taiwan. The festival’s scope has since expanded, and this year’s roster of exhibitors hailed from the US, Canada, Japan, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Italy, England and Australia.
But are art toys really works of art?
Well customers think so…..
“I consider these toys works of art,” said (collector) Wang, who counts Husky x 3, Jason Siu and Toys2R among her favorite brands and designers. Wang added that she has invested about NT$20,000 to NT$30,000 in her collection of nearly 30 figures since attending the first Taipei Toy Festival six years ago.
“Designer toys weren’t really well known in Taiwan back then and I went because I was curious to see what it was all about,” said Wang.
Since then designer toys have become increasingly popular in (Taiwan), thanks in part to their use as marketing tools by retailers. Designer Demos Chiang (蔣友柏), a grandson of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), and popular toy designers Devilrobots of Japan and Hong Kong-based C.i.World, creator of C.i.Boy, have all made limited-edition series for convenience stores.
Recession has not dented interest in art toys
Huang says the global recession hasn’t dented designers’ creativity — or fans’ willingness to drop money on their favorite figures.
“People might not be able to afford stuff like new cars or expensive brand-name items, but they are still willing to spend money on little things that bring them pleasure, and a lot of these toys only cost NT$500 to NT$1,000,” said Huang.
Many collectors were happy to go on a shopping frenzy at the festival, as evidenced by the number of attendees squeezing through the aisles with giant shopping bags in tow.
Art toy trend more than consumerism
But (designer) 221trees says that collecting designer toys is more than just consumerism.
“I think a lot of people see their lives as dull and boring, so they have the urge to seek out things that are meaningful to them. As designers, we make figures that represent different points of view or characters. When people see them, sometimes they think, ‘There is someone in the world that thinks like me.’ That’s the attraction for me, too,” she said.
- Taipei Times story The Plastic Menagerie July 15 2009
- Guide to urban vinylon Streetlevel blog
- Profile of Michael Lauon Time Out Hong Kong
The block-style figures from Japanese toy company MediCom are named after movie-maker Stanley Kubrick. Kubricks come in different sizes and are often made for specific licenses, including films, TV shows, comic books and video games.
- First of its kind – Taiwan’s Digital Art Center officially opens – July 09
- Newslink roundup Hong Kong art fair – May 09
- Review of Japanese artist Tatsumi Orimoto’s performance Finger Dolls in Hong Kong – Jan 09 – more on toy artworks but in a completely different style
- Takashi Murakami on why the war helped create Japanese pop culture – Dec 08 – plastic, fantasy and toys in Japan