Artist Huck Gee's "Don'Yoku" and "The Red Geisha." Don’yoku is a reputed Yakuza--a member of the fabled Japanese criminal underworld. Here, he's a cute little toy.

These Beatles action figures belong to Pharrell.

Obsessive designer-toy collector Pharrell Williams was a natural pick for guest curator of Design Exchange's This Is Not A Toy, the world's first major designer toy exhibit.

The value of these “conceptual toys” or “urban vinyl”--part merchandise, part art--range from $2 to $2 million.

It's a hipster man-child’s paradise. Plastic mice by artist KAWS.

Pharrell discovered the world of designer toys during a trip to Japan in the late '90s, where Nigo, a music producer and creator of hip-hop fashion line A Bathing Ape, showed him his own collection.

The Simple Things, by Pharrell Williams himself, in collaboration with artists Takashi Murakami and Jacob Arabo (AKA Jacob the Jeweler)

A detail of The Simple Things.

“It opened up this whole crazy world for me,” Pharrell told The Toronto Star in a recent interview. “I couldn’t believe that life had evolved to the point that grown-ups were playing with toys!”

Bubble Bench, by Misaki Kawai, 2012.

Tofu Oyaku of Japan’s Devil Robots toys has a rotating tofu head that's happy on one side and sad on the other.

Gold Mao Bust, by Frank Kozik, 2009.

Takashi Murakami's anime-inspired toys.

UP & UP, by FriendsWithYou, 2011

Karimoku Wood Companion by KAWS, goes for $350,000.

The exhibit is supplemented with video interviews and an iPad app.

Huck Gee's Warthog and Master.

KAWSBOB 3, by KAWS, 2007. From Pharrell Williams's personal collection.

Stormtrooper and "Darth Vader by KAWS.

The Pain in Dreams Diptych by artist Coarse

The Rainbow Vortex by FriendsWithYou. Tinkly music plays when visitors spin it.

The designer toy movement originated largely in Asia in the '90s, when Hong Kong artist Michael Lau started customizing G.I. Joe dolls.

A wall of Dunny toys, made by Kid Robot and produced in series of 15 to 20. They're sold in "blind boxes"--you discover what's inside after buying.

Co.Design

Pharrell Has A Crapload Of Toys, And He Wants You To Look At Them (But Don't Touch!)

When he's not busy winning Grammies, Pharrell Williams collects designer toys. Now, he's guest-curated the world's first major designer toy exhibit.

Have you ever wondered why Pharrell Williams is so damn happy all the time? It might be because he has so many toys. Not just regular millionaire toys, like cars and yachts, but colorful, plastic toys, too: his vast collection includes inflatable magic wizards, Spongebob paraphernalia, and Daft Punk action figures.

So Pharrell was a natural pick for guest curator of Design Exchange's new candy-colored exhibition, This Is Not A Toy, which resembles a hipster man-child’s paradise. Many of the 700 pieces here are borrowed from Pharrell’s personal collection of what the museum calls “conceptual toys” or “urban vinyl”—they're part merchandise, part art. Designed by rockstar artists like Takashi Murakami, KAWS, and Misaki Kawai, the value of these toys range from $2 to $2 million.

Pharrell discovered the world of designer toys during a trip to Japan in the late '90s, where Nigo, a music producer and creator of hip-hop fashion line A Bathing Ape, showed him his own collection. “It opened up this whole crazy world for me,” Pharrell told The Toronto Star in a recent interview. “I couldn’t believe that life had evolved to the point that grown-ups were playing with toys!”

The designer toy movement originated largely in Asia in the '90s, when Hong Kong artist Michael Lau started customizing G.I. Joe dolls. In the early 2000s, companies like Japan-based MediCom started releasing Be@rbricks—collectible plastic bears, of which companies like Chanel and Coca-Cola started issuing customized versions.

Some of the artists featured in This Is Not a Toy are Pharrell’s friends and collaborators—FriendsWithYou, creators of inflatable polka-dot magic wizards, decorated a Rolls-Royce for his video for "Hot-n-Fun." We like to think that Pharrell wrote “Happy” while playing with his Daft Punk action figure collection and his five-year-old son, Rocket Man.

This Is Not A Toy is on view at Design Exchange in Toronto until May 19th.

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3 Comments

  • Steve Cober

    Image correction: The girl with the needles and oozing hearts is a figure created by Junko Mizuno (not Takashi Murakami as credited).

  • Thanks for shining a design spotlight on the medium of toy art. I did want to mention that this isn't the "world's first major designer toy exhibit." There have been many small and medium-scale great exhibitions of designer toys over the years, but in my opinion the distinction of world's first major one ought to go to Selim Varol, who displayed his epic collection in Berlin in 2012: http://www.jeremyriad.com/blog/events/step-inside-selim-varols-massive-toy-art-collection (I'm sure as soon as I hit "submit," I'll think of another!)