Pharrell Williams’ ‘This is Not a Toy’ Show Hits Toronto’s DX

We were at the Design Exchange (DX) on Thursday for a media preview of This Is Not A Toy: An Exhibition of Contemporary Art + Collectible Design. The exhibition, which runs now until May 19th, intersects art, design, fashion, music, luxury goods and street culture in its big, bright and bold exploration of the toy as an art form. Guest curated by Grammy and Oscar-nominated creative genius Pharrell Williams, along with John Wee Tom and DX Associate Curator Sara Nickelson, This Is Not A Toy showcases many artists for the first time in Canada, under the same roof, in the largest exhibition the DX has curated to date.

The exhibition features a collection of larger-than-life paintings, sculptures, video, figurines and interactive art in a show that will make you see both toys and art in a whole new (brightly coloured) light. The exhibit’s pop culture references and approachable bold, clean graphics offers immediate mass appeal, whether to your niece or nephew (who can physically get their hands on some of the pieces) or your seasoned art collector parents. Offering the whimsical, lollipop and bubblegum feel of a child’s dream playroom, it really centres on accessible art and design in its exploration of the designer toy, or urban vinyl, a movement that began in 1997, when Hong Kong artist Michael Lau customized a number of G.I. Joe dolls.

This Is Not A Toy also features fun collaborations between toy manufacturers and artists with major fashion houses like Chanel, and an exclusive, limited edition Chanel Be@rbricks cartoon-esque plastic bear was leant to the show by Canadian fashion icon Jeanne Beker.  

Some of the most influential contemporary artists have explored the toy medium and such pieces have become favourites of art collectors around the world, who are able to own scaled down versions of the work with the increasingly popular youthful urban vinyl toys that are reflective of street culture, rebellious youth and graffiti.

Participating artists include Takashi Murakami, a contemporary artist internationally recognized for his collaborations with Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton and Kanye West, who is often considered the Warhol of Japan. In addition to his rarely seen jewel and diamond covered The Simple Things sculpture collaboration with Pharrell Williams and Jacob the Jeweler, the DX showcases his Flower Cushion and a plush skull with similarly flowered eyes, alongside Superflat Museum, a pocket-sized 10-piece cartoon-esque vinyl set.

Also featured is Brian Donnelly – better known as KAWS – who started as a graffiti artist, so his work is naturally rooted in this vibrant street culture. He blends elements of illustration and pop iconography (think Michelin Man and Smurfs) to create universally understood, cool and colourful images and sculptures that have become instantly recognizable. His work has caught the attention of numerous brands and celebrity collectors and, in addition to his enormous 18-foot figures, he’s wowed audiences with zip wallets for Comme des Garçons, shoe collaborations for both Nike and Vans and a redesigned moonman statue for the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards.

Miami art duo FriendsWithYou brings inflatables to the DX, including their rotating happy face – located in a custom-built rainbow vortex. A 30 ft. inflatable bouncy castle will make a surprise appearance during the show to further promote the collective’s motto, “Magic, Luck, and Friendship,” across Toronto. The exhibit also features the work of artists like Coarse, Huck Gee, and Frank Kozik. 

Channel that inner child and check out This Is Not A Toy for yourself: The Design Exchange is open Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm; Thursday 10am-8pm and Sunday 12pm-5pm.

#LYNL (Live Your Notable Life)