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You can view exhibition photos here

"BEYOND ULTRAMAN: Seven Artists Explore the Vinyl Frontier" was LATDA's first major exhibition, showcasing seven famous artists and literally hundreds of their works and collectibles. The show was held in partnership with PMCA (Pasadena Museum of California Art) and ran for three successful months, through the holidays of 2007 and into the new year of 2008. In LATDA's years-long course of conceiving, researching, pitching and ultimately "selling" the show... and designing and photographing the exhibition catalog thereof... and consulting on store product... ...and doing our fair share of schlepping (don't ask)... many, many things were learned, all valuable. This was not an easy show to do for firsttimers; fortunately, our colleagues at PMCA were fabulously professional, gracious, communicative and understanding to a fault... which made the entire process as painless as it could have possibly been. The end result was a huge and exciting show which accomplished what it set out to do: present the seven artists and contextualize their work within the larger movement of vinyl art toys. We think we did that, in spades, so hats off to the artists, and hats off to us! Here's to our supporters who made it all possible. NEXT!
--the directors of LATDA

 

EXHIBITION BRIEF

"BEYOND ULTRAMAN: Seven Artists Explore the Vinyl Frontier"is an overview of the inspirations and manifestations of the recent vinyl art toy landscape as explored by seven California artists. While the movement began in Asia, primarily Hong Kong and Japan, California's potent mix of cultural diversity and cutting-edge experimentation has since made it the ultimate fertile ground for artists blazing new paths in an ultra-cool medium.
Fifty years ago the words "art" and "vinyl toy" were about as likely to be spoken in the same sentence as "art" and "comic book." The mid-century modern definition of a vinyl toy was basically one thing -- a doll. Plastic injection molding was a boon to post-war toy manufacturing, but it was mostly used for parts. During the late 50s and early 60s vinyl was being used for mass-produced toys, but the term 'vinyl' was only attached to dolls as a selling factor.

Mass production and popular culture are considered the bulwarks that separate designed objects from being 'fine art'. As is the case with comic book artists, the measure of time is the final judge of what we ascribe artistic value. The work of the artists who created Krazy Kat and Superman has over time become recognized as art. The very format and medium of the work have established specific artistic expressions (animation and graphic novels). But what happens when artists turn to mass production and popular culture at the outset? The artists in this exhibit are exploring a new form of expression in the vinyl toy.

Why are a toy museum and an art museum collaborating?
For the same reason that artists are exploring toys as a medium. Toys are an early entrée into the basic appreciation of art - objects that provide a sense of pleasure by their mere existence. As a toy museum, we are interested in the history and development of these objects and their makers. The art museum perspective explores the specific new expressions by the artists and how they influence the definition of art.

What will you see in this exhibit?
The specific work of Gary Baseman, Tim Biskup, David Gonzales, David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim, Brian McCarty, and Mark Nagata. Each artist has a connection to forwarding the vinyl toy movement into the mainstream.
A historic timeline of the vinyl toy movement made of toys with a look at the future.
The process of vinyl toy creation from sketch to finished product.


ARTIST BIOS

GARY BASEMAN

Los Angeles / b. 1960
Painter - TV/Movie Producer - Toy Designer

Baseman coined the term "Pervasive Art," which is an apt description of his catalogue of works ranging from illustration for major publications such as The New Yorker, Time, The New York Times, and Rolling Stone to his three-time Emmy award winning animated television series, "Teacher's Pet." His work is featured in the permanent collections of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. and the Museum of Modern Art in Rome. Before working in vinyl toys, he created the visual identity for the board game "Cranium." Baseman's first vinyl toy series was introduced in 2004. It was a blind box series of figures inspired by a game piece from one of the many "Dunce" board games in Baseman's extensive toy collection.

How does he fit into this show?
Baseman has been a longtime collector of many kinds of toys, which have in turn influenced all his work. Toys became a good fit for his idea of "pervasive art." Once the opportunity to design toys arose, he synthesized his love of toys with his work as an artist. He continues to design toys and regularly includes vinyl toys in exhibitions of his work.


TIM BISKUP

Los Angeles / b. 1967
Painter - Animator - Toy Designer

In the tradition of Paul Klee, Tim Biskup has developed a unique style infused with a wide range of media and influences. Difficult to classify, Biskup once described his own style as "Baroque Modernism." His work has appeared on skateboards, his own clothing line (GAMA-GO), record labels, as well as gallery walls worldwide. In 2003, a collaborative series of paintings with Gary Baseman led to an interchangeable card game called Modular Populus. His character driven style was a natural segue into art vinyl toys: his paintings provide inspiration for his toys. In 2003 Sony Creative produced "Totem Pals," a blind box series under the Vanimal Zoo series. "The Stack Pack," also by Sony Creative, was produced the same year, launching Biskup into a new career as a vinyl toy artist. In 2004, the Neo Kaiju (New Monster) project was launched by STRANGEco and Super 7 magazine. Biskup joined with Gary Baseman, Seonna Hong, Todd Schorr and Kathy Staico-Schorr to design ten figures that served as tribute to the Japanese vinyl monster toys of the 60s and 70s.

How does he fit into this show?
A relative mid-comer to the art vinyl scene (which reached its tipping point in 2001), Biskup has since been prolific in his toy design. In his Vanimals and Stack Pack series, Biskup reaches beyond the mere singular figure and creates art vinyl that is ever more toy-like in function. Some pieces are epic in scale. Movable parts that are stackable or can be rearranged reflect the energy of his paintings. Biskup also credits his love of the early Japanese vinyl toys as an influence in his work.


DAVID GONZALES

Richmond, CA / b. 1960
Cartoonist - Graphic artist - Writer - Toy Designer

While toys created after cartoon characters are not new, David Gonzales' "Homies" line of vinyl toys was an early example of the new expression of art as toy. Appearing in 1998, the first set of "Homies" was six characters based on barrio personalities from Gonzales' comic strip in Low Rider Magazine. They were originally sold in vending machines, a fact that brought them under scrutiny and caused much controversy due to their instant and easy accessibility. While similar toys in Asia depicted various street life characters enjoyed gallery acclaim and high prices, Homies were pulled off the market and condemned as promoting negative stereotypes and gang life. This controversy had the effect of publicizing the property, however, giving it an instant street-cred that could not have been achieved by conventional marketing. Gonzales has continued to design new figures for his Homies line as well as developing characters for Los Mijos (a series of child characters); HoodRats (Homies as giant rats); Homie Clowns; the Palermos (loosely based on Mafia-type characters); the Dogpound (marginalized mutts); and Trailer Park (the denizens of). Over 300 figures have been produced from Gonzales' designs and can still occasionally be found in vending machines, although they are now packaged and sold in collector sets. Gonzales does not consider himself primarily a toy designer. His interest is in narrative art and is currently pursuing animation as his main medium.

How does he fit into this show?
Gonzales was one of the earliest artists to translate his two-dimensional art into vinyl toys. The fact that the subject matter did not reflect traditional toy design was in line with what was happening in Asia with the work of Michael Lau, Tim Tsui, and Jason Siu.



DAVID HORVATH

Los Angeles / b. 1971
Animator - Toy Designer

SUN-MIN KIM

Los Angeles / b. 1976
Illustrator - Writer - Toy Designer

This creative duo is presented as a team because that is how they work. Horvath and Kim are the co-creators of Uglydolls (voted the Specialty Toy of the Year for 2006 by the Toy Industry of America). Sun-Min and David spent the years after graduation designing various toy concepts until Sun-Min moved back to Korea in 2001. David sent her many "miss you" letters signed with Wage, the first Uglydoll. She then sewed a 3D plush version of Wage for David as a gift, and the result is Uglydoll. And while Uglydolls started out as plush toys, they were soon released in vinyl along with a growing numbers of designs from both artists. Noupa, Pounda, Little Bony, Spider Boom and collaborations with KidRobot are part of their growing portfolio of designer toys. LITTLEBONY is spin-off from their animated television show produced by Sony in Japan. Horvath studied illustration at Parsons School of Design where he met Kim, a fellow student. Kim has published over ten children's books in Korea, her native country. No stranger to the world of toy design Horvath's mother was a designer for Mattel. Through their work with Uglydolls, Horvath and Kim have appeared in major museums worldwide via museum stores. Their work has appeared in art exhibitions in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, and New York, and will be included in a toy exhibition in fall 2006 at the Louvre in Paris.

How do they fit into this show?
They create vinyl art toys which have found their way into the mainstream yet they have retained their artist roots. They successfully translate their characters into multiple forms besides vinyl: animated cartoons, plush dolls, and children's books. Working in Japan has brought them into contact with the Japanese vintage vinyl toy scene whose influence appears in Horvath's graphic work.


 BRIAN McCARTY

Los Angeles / b. 1974
Photographer - Writer

Los Angeles / b. 1974 Photographer - TV Producer/Director - Contributing Editor Brian McCarty has been exploring issues of play through the art form of photography. His commercial work blends his technical talents with his wit and philosophical insights about toys and toy design. His photography has been featured in numerous publications, and his client list includes the mainstream (MTV, McCann-Erickson, Rockstar Games) and those on the creative edge (STRANGEco, Tokidoki, Laughing Squid). In addition to his commercial work, McCarty's fine art photography has been exhibited worldwide at locations ranging from the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut to Centro Per L'Arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci in Prato, Italy. He is an active member of both the international toy and art communities, and he regularly contributes to art-toy publications such as Hi Fructose, Clutter, and Playtimes. He is the unofficial art toy documentarian and historian.

How does he fit into this show?
While not a toy designer per se, McCarty has used vinyl (and other) art toys in his photography, which serves as a kind of documentary of the vinyl toy movement. His contributions have helped to promote the recognition of vinyl toy design as an art form.


MARK NAGATA

San Francisco / b. 1964
Illustrator - Toy Designer - Collector

Mark Nagata has come full circle in the vinyl toy world having started as a collector of early vinyl toys from Japan (his private holdings include the largest Ultraman collection in the world). His illustration client list reflects his range of talent: IBM, Genentech, Scholastic Books, Harper Collins, Activision, DC Comics, Galoob Toys, Lucasfilms, Hasbro Toys and a series of 40 cover paintings for R.L. Stine's Goosebumps book series. Many of these seemed to serve as outlets for the inner action toy that lived inside of him. In 2002, Nagata combined his passion for toys and his background in commercial art to co-found Super 7 Magazine, a stylish publication dedicated to Japanese toy culture. Through Super 7 Nagata had his first experience in designing toys based on classic Japanese character toys. After four years of producing the magazine, Nagata is now involved in a new venture, Max Toy Co., which is producing its own toys, both licensed and original. Max Toy Co. will allow Nagata to produce original artwork, sculpt new toys, and work directly with other art toy artists. For Nagata, Max Toy Co is a synthesis of toys and art ... both life long passions.

How does he fit into this show?
Nagata has covered almost every aspect of the vinyl toy world from vintage to post-modern. He started as a collector and promoter and is now artist, designer and manufacturer.

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