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Fine Art’s Newest Medium: Vinyl Toys

Designer Art Toys & Collectibles – A collection of contemporary art is incomplete without this medium.

From KAWS Companions to Hebru Brantley’s Fly Boys, vinyl has become sculpture’s newest material. It is a medium that speaks to our current industrial process, the trajectory of the international art market, and our shared memory of childhood. For Paul Bunditz it all started about 20 years ago on the streets of Harijuku in Tokyo. While walking down the brightly lit streets the veteran toy designer noticed a large line in front of the famous cult toy and apparel shop, Bounty Hunter. They offered limited small vinyl toys like Kid Pirate with the purchase of apparel and consistently garnered queues of people around the block. 

Inspired by their cult following and with the help of artist Tristan Eaton, Bunditz founded Kid Robot in 2002.  A designer vinyl toy company with shops on both coasts, it made and sold exclusively limited edition artist inspired vinyl figures. One collectible specifically titled “Dunny”, a cross between a rabbit and bear, became their brand’s best seller. The Dunny is still immensely popular and collectible today and artist’s estates, like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, have worked with Kid Robot to release their own editions.

Designer toys are a new medium to collect in the contemporary art market with a staggering following, due in part to the limited supply and unique designs. They’re an accessible price point and bridge the gap between art collectors and enthusiasts. One of the most well-known artists in this collectible category is the artist KAWS.

KAWS , (real name Brian Donnelly) was approached by Bounty Hunter in 1999 and created a limited amount of KAWS companions – figures that resembled Mickey Mouse. They sold out almost immediately and became a reoccurring theme in his work. Kaws started his career writing graffiti and later worked as an animator for Disney. As his following grew so did his notoriety in the international contemporary art world leading to collaborations with big names such as Uniqlo, Nike and Dior. These collabs drew on his recognizable motifs – appropriations of fun pop culture characters including the Michelin Man, Kurfs, Kimpsons, and more. In 2019 his work realized 14.7m at auction in Honk Kong.

In 2016 at KAWS’ exhibition at The Modern in Texas the artist released more dolls, this time as an open edition. This enabled a larger pool of individuals to become collectors. His figures come in a variety of sizes and shapes – Companion, Chum, and BFF most notably. At auction one of these dolls saw a 200k hammer. 

From KAWS’ “Companion” to Kid Robot’s “Dunny” or the popular “Be@rBrick”, fine art designer toys have become more popular with their value seeing a steady increase. Collect

One particular favorite project of ours over the course of the holiday season is the acquisition of heirloom art objects.  Specifically, families are often drawn to art objects of sentimental or social significance as a means of remembering, cherishing, or bestowing.  As such, West Chelsea Contemporary currently houses a broad roster of sentimental and heirloom investment-worthy artists.  
Concrete to Canvas, running presently through December 31, features fantastic examples from the history of street and graffiti art such as Richard Hambleton, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Keith Haring.  Once more, our sales team will provide you an abundance of examples that fit your specific needs to invest and design effectively and beautifully.

Andy Nelson – Art Consultant andy@wcc.art

Reach out today to schedule a private appointment.

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