Entering the Toy Art Gallery (TAG) in Hollywood, I immediately hope that some unforeseen, but not tragic, event will force me to spend a few hours in the waiting room. An impressive array of Pop Surrealist art shares the space with an obsessively large number of art figurines protected by glass cabinets.
Just over a year ago the collector Gino Joukar opened a small gallery next door to this office with the goal of promoting toy art as a real art. One of the first contacts he called on as he scheduled monthly shows of brilliant and original figurative toy art was GABRIELS (Paolo Gabrielli), an Italian he had met through the Mondo Bizzaro gallery in Rome.
GABRIELS is not a toy artist along the lines of the vinyl and resin figurines of Alex Pardee, Frank Kozik and KAWS. His intricate and hard-to-define figures are forged in bronze. Despite this distinction GABRIELS cautions that they shouldn’t be mistaken for sculptures: “Let it be clear: these are not sculptures, but toys and more precisely prototypes of Toys for Melancholics.”
Thanks to TAG I’ve been introduced to an Italian’s new and surreal take on toys. The figures are disassemblable and partially interchangeable (the label beneath Helen reveals a relationship with the neighboring figure Paris – “The nucleus of Helen can be placed on the base of Paris; Helen’s base can contain Paris’ nucleus”). The smooth, shiny surfaces immediately visible to the viewer are part of an interlocking set of bronze pieces. Each figure is accompanied by a photo which lays bare its dissected components – the most impressive being the 94 pieces of Izanami (and Kagututi).
They are creatures developed in the petri dish of a futuristic mad scientist and suspended in the curiosity cabinet of a baroque collector, their yellow glass eyes wide open. The bean-shaped bronze innards hidden in the works were crafted to be embryos, but they could easily be kidneys or lobes of a brain.
After he pulls on a pair of latex gloves, the gallery manager reaches over to Helen and pulls off her antenna mounted eye. Once it is separated, I see that the piece has the shape of a commedia dell’arte style mask, but with a long beak that pierces a yellow eye. Looking at the figure without the mask I notice a small alien-like face. The discovery fills me with the same excitement I felt when I was ten and banged open the grey box of a garage-sale stereo unit to discover a cluster of multicolored transistor nodes.
Since GABRIELS earned a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Vienna it’s not surprising that this Toy Art Gallery experience, much like the curiosity which led me to smash open the seemingly magical stereo box, will push us to reconsider just what it means to play.
You can find out more about GABRIELS surreal playfulness in my upcoming interview with him.