Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Urban Toy Show 

Earlier this month I attended my first Urban Toy Collectors Show and Sale in Pasadena. I was looking forward to finally talking to people who might be able to educate me on the whole urban toy phenomenon. (I have since received my copy of Vinyl Will Kill and hope to become more enlightened soon) Imagine my disappointment when, after hiking around a labyrinth of elevators and parking structures (tersely redirected by Chinese entrepreneurs having a convention in the same building) the show amounted to a mere six 8 ft. tables placed around a small room and sparsely covered with mostly toys by one manufacturer, Toy2R.

Slim though the pickings were, I got the feeling that I was seeing the beginning of something that will soon be bigger and more mainstream in the not too distant future. These are the first defectors from Comic-Con. The Blue Fairy has endowed these comic book/graphic novel figures with life, and they have run away, like Collodi’s Pinocchio.

From what I could gather, the word ‘toy’ in urban toy is kind of misleading. It is definitely more art than toy, although by the nature of materials and manufacturing (vinyl, plastic, and mass production) these objects could really serve as toys. (Although I don’t see someone paying $60 for a vinyl figure and then handing it over to a toddler to gnaw on – well, maybe $10.)

The coordinator of this show was a young Asian American woman who goes by the name “Mochi”. I was impressed by her knowledge of self-promotion. I think that’s why I expected so much of the show. The ads were professional and large and in all the local papers. Expecting that Mochi was a very savvy retailer, I asked her where her store was. As it turns out she is just a devoted fan of the Urban Toy Movement and organized the show to attract people to buy from and trade with.

Urban (or Designer)Toys are like a dimensional response to video/computer games. To me at least, there is still something missing. The future of toys lies somewhere between these two. There is a tactile quality that urban toys provide – the secret pocket companionship that is missing from the world of gaming. But the graphics reflect the same image world of computer and video games. There is a lot of violence and darkness here. And some of it seems to have form over substance – it looks cool but refers to nothing with which I can identify(is this user failure on my part?) Not that toys need to be Sanrio-cute to be ‘good’ toys – but much of what I saw lacked soul. The best of what I’ve seen in this genre is able to evoke a good hearty laugh or at least a smile. It will be interesting to watch the evolution of these toys…

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Cabaret Mechanical Theatre 

They’re back! I think the last time I visited the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre web site was just before my last trip to the UK in 2001. I was hoping to see their museum in person and was devastated to see that they had moved out of London. For one reason or another, I guess I haven't visited the web site in awhile. I am amazed to see the activity they are involved in here in the U.S.! It has always been my dream to see the CMT to some place in America. In fact, when we started the LATDA Museum, it was with the long-range desire to partner with them in the future.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Morris Museum 

Another great contribution from one of our members! Nance in New Mexico sent us news about the opening of a great exhibition at the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey. The museum recently received a bequest from Murtogh D. Guinness (yes, that Guinness) of over 700 mechanical automata and musical instruments and has begun to exhibit selections from the collection. They have also mounted a WONDERFUL online exhibit complete with live-action and sound of selected pieces. (It requires some sort of media player on your computer but is really worth it!)

I spent a long time poring over every section of the exhibition. (‘The Magic Cupboard ‘was one of my favorites). But as great as it was to see everything on the computer, I now have a burning desire to see these objects in person. And I hope that others feel the same way too, because that is what makes a museum important. Plato’s cave analogy in the Republic applies here… the internet provides us the shadows and images of objects but we should desire to know the objects and the stories, people, beyond them.

The Morris Museum’s handling of the Guinness Collection is something to aspire to. We hope to be a venue by the time the Morris Museum starts thinking about traveling some of its collection!

Monday, December 06, 2004

Toy manufacturing (continued) 

Speaking of “slow toys” (as in ‘slow food’ – look it up!) I received a wonderful drumming monkey for my 23rd wedding anniversary. The box was delightfully rendered in retro-graphics, but had a discreet URL printed on the top, just under the “Made in Mexico” tagline. Naturally I jumped on the internet and visited the Cositas Brand web site to learn more about this particular Jacko and his friends.

Bomba means ‘pump’ in Spanish, and refers to the rubber bulb that, when squeezed, provides the low-tech action power of these rubber toys. The same family workshop has been producing the Bomba toys since 1945. Eight people produce 500 pieces a week, all by hand. This has made the company very selective about its distribution, offering their goods only to select retailers. We hope that in the spring, the LATDA Museum store will be one of the chosen ones.

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