Small Talk Tag: Exhibit

The Nifty Toys of the Fifties

1950s toys

If you build it, they will come. And what they wanted (yup, that’s you, our visitors), were the toys they played with as a kid. While seeing the toys you played with behind glass may make you feel old, it is pretty awesome to see old friends again. We promise you’ll pick right up where you left off. Gotta Have It! Iconic Toys from Past Decades begins with 1950s toys.

Saturday mornings in front of the television set changed advertising, allowing companies to demonstrate products and directly reach their target market: kids. And the discovery of polypropylene made plastic toys inexpensive and more interactive. Barbie came to town with Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. They were joined by failed-manufacturing-ventures-turned-toys in Silly Putty and Play-Doh. And the decade wouldn’t be complete without Matchbox cars, Erector Sets, and dolls that talked and wet, Chatty Cathy and Betsy Wetsy.

LACMA’s Miniature Metropolis

Metropolis II

We’re obviously huge fans of kinetic sculptures that incorporate toys, hence T/m’s two-story Toytisserie. Although it’s not in a museum of toys or miniatures, artist Chris Burden’s large installation Metropolis II has been amazing visitors to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) since 2011. Metropolis II is a fury of 1,100 matchbox cars whirring by at a scale speed of 230 miles per hour on a complex system of tracks around a futuristic miniature skyline.

Witnessing the sculpture in person in the LACMA galleries evokes feelings of wonder and awe, but with a tinge of anxiety, similar to driving on a real-life multi-lane freeway in heavy traffic (after all, toys are teaching tools for life, you know!). It took Burden and his studio team over four years of research and design to get all the components exactly right—even so, a team of attendants is on hand in case a car derails or jams up the track. The sculpture runs intermittently for four hours every day at LACMA.
Photo: Chris Burden, Metropolis II, 2010, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, courtesy of the Nicolas Berggruen Charitable Foundation, © Chris Burden Estate

The Disneyland of Walt’s Imagination

miniature Disneyland

As we know from an earlier blog post, Walt Disney was a huge fan of miniatures. Disney dreamed of creating little vignettes of America, placing them on a train, and touring them around the U.S. Although “Disneylandia” eventually grew to be a much bigger project, Disneyland, his “lands” were miniaturized and put on public view at The Walt Disney Family Museum. “The Disneyland of Walt’s Imagination” represents the park with attractions that existed or were in development during Disney’s lifetime. Disney’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller, and her family worked with Kerner Optical for nine months before premiering the model at the museum in September of 2009.

As with any other miniature, no detail was overlooked. The Rivers of America were crafted out of blue-painted shower door Plexiglas on a green base to create the illusion of depth. And all the hand sculpture flags fly in an eastern direction just as they would in Disneyland due to the western ocean breeze. Anyone familiar with the park may wonder if the model includes any hidden Mickeys. It doesn’t, but don’t be disappointed! Two hidden Walts can be found walking with his daughter behind Sleeping Beauty’s castle and riding in a red Autopia car.
Photo: Courtesy of The Walt Disney Family Museum.

Do You See What I See?

Optical Toys

If you’ve been following along, you’ve noticed by now how essential toys are to our culture’s story. And here it is again, a tale of how science influenced toys, which influenced the creation of moving pictures. In Optical Toys, part of the new permanent exhibits at The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, visitors explore the 1820s discovery of persistence of vision. Scientists theorized that the human eye remembers an image for a fraction of a second after it disappears. Thus, if two images are moving rapidly, the mind blends them into one image. Caught on yet?!

While this was only part of how the mind perceives movement, it set in motion (see what we did there?) the exploration of how the mind explores action and depth through optical toys. Think View Masters, stereoscopes, and kaleidoscopes. In the center of it all is a giant zoetrope showing one of our favorite toys taking flight. Through the use of fast moving picture strips viewed through a slot (think of it like a flip book), our now permanently grounded plane is able to soar the skies.

Design for Eternity

Design for Eternity

The phrase “you can’t take it with you” certainly hasn’t been around forever. As The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibit Design for Eternity: Architectural Models from the Ancient Americas shows, ancient Mesoamerican and Andean cultures may have believed quite the opposite. From 100 B.C. until European contact in the sixteenth century, artists in the ancient Americas created small-scale models to be placed in the tombs of important individuals.

Although there is very little documentation on how these objects were used, Maya hieroglyphs refer to the miniature structures as “god houses” or “sleeping places for the gods.” The exhibit includes examples of these models in a variety of materials including ceramic, wood, stone, and metal that replicate historic palaces, temples, and everyday living spaces. Even though their original intentions may be lost, it’s fascinating to see evidence of humankind’s long-standing interest in miniature art.
Photo: House Model, 100 B.C.-A.D. 200, Nayarit, Mexico. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, www.metmuseum.org.

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