Small Talk / Exhibits

Can You Solve It?

Rubik's Cube Exhibit

There are a lot of totally rad toys that are synonymous with the material world of the 1980s, but perhaps none more iconic than the colorful and ever-puzzling Rubik’s Cube. You might be surprised to learn that Ernő Rubik actually invented the puzzle, which he called the Magic Cube, in 1974 out of wood blocks and paper clips. A few design tweaks and a toy patent produced the re-named Rubik’s Cube that debuted internationally in 1980. Since then, approximately one in seven people have played with a Rubik’s Cube!

A new exhibit at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, New Jersey takes the toy a step further. Beyond Rubik’s Cube is the first museum exhibit devoted to this iconic toy. An interactive gallery allows visitors to learn cube-solving skills, see the bejeweled Masterpiece Cube, hear a Cube Symphony, create a Rubik’s Cube mosaic, and more. Does the thought of solving the infamous Rubik’s Cube immediately give you a headache? Fear not: the exhibit also includes a specialized robot that is programmed to solve the puzzle in mere seconds- totally rad indeed! The exhibit is on view now through November 30, 2014.

Playful Competition

National Toy Hall of Fame Inductees 2014

It’s that time of year again! The National Toy Hall of Fame has announced the finalists for the 2014 induction. And it looks as though we might be having a case of déjà vu… this year’s two inductees could be American Girl dolls, bubbles, Fisher Price Little People, Hess toy trucks, little green army men, My Little Pony, Operation Skill Game, paper airplane, pots and pans, Rubik’s Cube, Slip ‘N Slide, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Since the finalists were announced on September 22, almost 7,350 public votes have been cast. Make sure your opinion is included! Learn more about the finalists and vote on the Hall of Fame’s website. Check back there or here on Small Talk after November 6 to see if the bubbles float to the top or the pots and pans make a big bang!

Confiscated Toys Liberated Again

Confiscated Toys

It’s every grade school kid’s nightmare: bringing your newest, coolest toy to school to impress your friends only to have it end up in the teacher’s dreaded confiscation drawer. An exhibit on view earlier this year at the V&A Museum of Childhood displayed the captives of this proverbial toy Bastille and explored how exactly they got there. The exhibit, entitled Confiscation Cabinets is the idea of artist and teacher Guy Tarrant whose focus is on the interaction between pupils, play, and resistant behavior.

Tarrant, with the help of other teachers, collected confiscated toys and objects from over 150 different London schools over three decades. Each toy was labeled with the age and sex of the child it was confiscated from along with the year and location. Not surprisingly, some of our favorite classroom distractions were present: troll dolls, plastic creepy crawlies, action figures and play jewelry. However, some of the objects on display were a bit more sinister: aerosol cans used as flamethrowers, air guns, and even a tennis ball turned fire bomb. The display of all the objects together brings back some nostalgia- and perhaps anxiety- for grade school life.

Photo: Confiscation Cabinets © Guy Tarrant

Masterminding Historical Interiors

Thorne_CaliforniaLivingRoom

In the late 1930s, Eugene Kupjack read a magazine article about Narcissa Thorne’s miniature rooms. Kupjack, trained in art and set design, took pieces of Lucite and fashioned them into a chair, a dish, and tiny glasses. He mailed them off to Mrs. Thorne—and six weeks later, he got a phone call. Mrs. Thorne loved his work. Would he come create some pieces for her?

Kupjack’s work as the principle artisan on 37 of the 62 Thorne Rooms launched his career in miniature-making, and he is now considered to be a father of the art form. Kupjack created approximately 700 miniature rooms during his career. Over the decades, Kupjack worked with many different mediums, but became particularly interested in creating silver miniatures after famous historical pieces, including Martha Washington’s tea tray and Paul Revere’s tankard. Today, Kupjack’s sons are active miniature artisans, and his work continues to awe visitors at the Art Institute of Chicago and museums around the world. As one 1971 Thorne Rooms viewer mused, “To see them is to marvel at the magic of his fingers and the ingeniousness of his mind that created this tiny room.”

Preserving Historical Interiors

Thorne_CaliforniaLivingRoom

T/m’s miniature collection was greatly influenced by three spectacular commissions in the 1970s. We’ve already examined Queen Mary’s Doll House and Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle, so now it’s time to examine the third: the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago. In the 1920s, museums across the United States from The Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Detroit Institute of Arts were premiering full-scale period interiors. After traveling through Europe, Narcissa Thorne, daughter-in-law of the co-founder of Montgomery Ward and Company, dreamed of miniature rooms as a space-saving alternative to documenting, sharing, and preserving historical interiors.

Thorne began with 24 rooms that were exhibited to great acclaim between 1933 and 1940 at Chicago’s Century of Progress ExpositionSan Francisco’s Golden Gate International Exposition, and New York’s 1939-1940 World’s Fair. Over the years, she commissioned additional rooms for a total of 68 interiors spanning Europe from the late 13th century to the 1930s and America from the 17th century to the 1930s. They are now on view across the United States, including the Art Institute of Chicago. We’ll be looking at some of the rooms in depth over time, but for now, check out this then-and-now postcard collection.

Photo: Mrs. James Ward Thorne. California Living Room, 1850-1875, c. 1940 The Art Institute of Chicago. Gift of Mrs. James Ward Thorne.

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