A new exhibition at the Design Exchange, co-curated by Pharrell Williams, proves that when it comes to art, there’s no need to put away childish things.
Long before his Grammy headgear launched a thousand Twitter parody accounts, producer, singer, and entrepreneur Pharrell Williams had a reputation for being a man of many hats. So it should come as no surprise that the consummate multi-tasker has now added “curator” to his extensive CV. As part of the Design Exchange’s “This Is Not a Toy” exhibition, Williams has donated pieces from his personal collection for the world’s first large-scale show of sculptures, figurines, and artwork connected to the burgeoning designer-toy movement.
Though they first appeared in Hong Kong in the late ’90s, designer toys were quickly co-opted by graffiti artists from around the world, who commodified their trademark characters with special-edition products. Now that the movement’s begun to enter the mainstream, the latest figurines from designers like KAWS and Huck Gee sell out within minutes and can cost more than your rent. Vinyl playthings might seem an odd choice for a museum exhibition, but these objects have highbrow connections that run deep. “For a lot of people, these toys were what brought them into the contemporary art world,” explains Sara Nickleson, associate curator at the Design Exchange. “That’s how Pharrell got involved in the contemporary art world, and now he collaborates with [Japanese artist Takashi] Murakami and Jeff Koons.”
The fruits of Pharrell and Murakami’s partnership will be on display at the museum, along with work from a host of other major artists. Heavy doses of CanCon are provided via customized “Munnys” (Kidrobot’s popular line of DIY figures) from local creatives like Jeremy Laing and Team Macho, as well as an exhibition catalogue essay from Douglas Coupland, who’s never met a pop-culture trend he didn’t like.
“Pharrell’s hooked us up with a lot of these artists,” admits Nickleson. “I mean, some of them are untouchable, but because of his close relationships with them, we now have pieces from their own collections.” While it’s easy to write off many celebrity collaborations as simple publicity grabs, it seems like the Design Exchange really did get lucky with Pharrell.
Click here for a close-up view of the annotation below
“This Is Not a Toy” runs Feb. 7–May 19 at the Design Exchange. 234 Bay St., 416-363-6121, dx.org.