Before you visit FWMoA, if you’re the planning type, you may have gotten on our website to peruse our current exhibitions. Though our main galleries rotate every 8-12 weeks, so there is always something new for you to see, we do have some staple pieces: the contemporary glass in the hallway, the sculptures in the atrium, and the toy cases by the Learning Center. The toy cases display a collection of classic toys and Americana that help tell the story of our cultural history; and, they just got a new addition, thanks to Terry R. Myers, of Kaiyodo toys.
Since 1964, the Japanese toy manufacturing company Kaiyodo has produced tiny works of art. Known for their extreme detail and miniscule detachable parts, each figure is painstakingly designed, molded, and hand-painted. Kaiyodo’s bottle-cap and action figures are highly desired items by toy collectors, particularly models from the early 2000s. Some come with a unique serial number in a limited-edition set, making them like an artist print; however, unlike more mainstream works of art, Kaiyodo’s objects are found in a wide variety of everyday locations, from candy boxes to vending machines in stores as well as airports, museums, and zoos.
Kaiyodo has worked with some of the top Japanese artists in the world such as Takashi Murakami (founder of the Superflat movement), Osamu Tezuka (creator of Astro Boy), and Enoki Tomohide (a sculptor of Pokémon) to bring characters typically seen on screen or a page to life in three dimensions. Traditionally inspired by manga or anime, Kaiyodo has expanded their scope to include animals, history, and even food that all celebrate the bright and bold nature of Japanese culture.
Many of our visitors ask how an art collector decides what to collect; read on to learn how Terry R. Myers, who gifted this Kaiyodo collection to FWMoA, was introduced to Kaiyodo and spurred to collect these “small plastic objects”.
In April of 2005, the internationally recognized artist Takashi Murakami organized an exhibition at the Japan Society in New York called Little Boy: The Arts of Japan’s Exploding Subculture. Named after the codename given to the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, Murakami’s exhibition made clear the complex historical conditions underpinning how Japanese popular culture has been produced, and then consumed, at home and abroad. The year before, Murakami presented his critical concept of Superflat with a group exhibition that I saw at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, CA. Superflat is a visual manifesto that articulates the ways in which design, fine arts, and pop culture have been compressed in Japan. A flatness articulated in the two dimensions of, for example, the Ukiyo-e woodcut prints of Hiroshige and Hokusai, it has now been made “super” by the massive expansion of media and worldwide distribution.
Six months before Little Boy opened, I made my first trip to Japan. I had wanted to go for some time, but I was a late arrival to the swell of interest in Japanese anime and manga that started in the United States in the 1980s. My first trip helped clarify that it was the quality of the confusion that intrigued me the most. Never before had I experienced such unfamiliarity that also repeatedly exposed how it had taken from, and transformed aspects of, so-called Western popular culture (particularly from the U.S.) that have been exported.
I traveled to New York in 2005 to cover the Little Boy exhibition for the magazine Modern Painters. All of us who attended the press preview were given what I understood, at the time, to be just a souvenir: a couple of plastic figures produced by the long-standing Japanese company Kaiyodo. I had already known that Murakami had produced sets of shokugan, or candy toys, based upon the cast of characters in his work, but these two figures were the first I acquired myself. Sculpted by the model-maker Yuki Oshima, I later learned that they are representations of Wonda and Reset, the character mascots of an event called the Wonder Festival that Kaiyodo sponsors twice a year to support amateur and emerging model makers, as well as to introduce new items. Many of the items presented at the festival are much larger than the shokugan and what are also called gachapon, or capsule toys, a word derived from the sound made by the vending machine itself. There was something about the compactness of examples from these two categories, however, that stuck with me.
From there it didn’t take long until I was completely hooked on the complexity, confusion, and clarity of these small plastic objects in terms of their cultural references. Moreover, I found myself impressed by the craftsmanship; how they were painted by hand as well as the engineering involved in making their parts, quite literally, fit together. By my second trip to Japan, I was prepared to start searching for specific examples that would enable me to build a collection that represented a wide range of subjects, from the anime and manga characters to the most specific of Japanese historical and cultural figures and sites. (Pro tip: go to the neighborhood called Akihabara first, and then to a repurposed mall called Nakano Broadway.) As the collection grew, it became my goal to have it stay together and go where it could become much more than the sum of its parts. To my mind, these shokugan and gachapon are the netsuke (indispensable items of dress as well as fine works of miniature art) of their time, repositories of culture and history compressed into something exquisite that also, somehow, have something for everyone.
Terry R. Myers, Los Angeles, April 2021.
A selection of Terry R. Myers’ collection of Kaiyodo figurines are now on view in Kaiyodo: Mini Artworks for the Modern Age. Be sure to also check out the other toy cases at FWMoA, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: Classic Toys & Americana.