T.A.G.: Exclusive Finds

Meet Gino Joukar, the man behind the first toy art gallery ever. Wait…what?

Words: Darrion Beckles
Images: Courtesy of Toy Art Gallery

When I hear “toys,” I expect names like Mattel, Bandai and Nerf. But when it comes to the Toy Art Gallery in Los Angeles, instead I hear Kid Robot, KAWS and ROBOTOX, Yosuke Ueno, Frank Kozik and the progenitor of the figurative art scene himself—Michael Lau out of Hong Kong (he’s the guy credited with starting the toy art movement in the mid ‘90s). While they may not yet be big names in the mainstream art community, these toy designers are world renowned in this relatively young movement of custom toys, figurative art, or put more simply, toy art.

You may be still asking, how can toys be considered art?  Want to know how seriously they (sculptors, collectors, fans, etc) take their toys? Besides their enormous following and how these dudes are like bona fide rockstars in the toy art community, lets focus on the quality of what they create.

Gabriels’ “Toys for Melancholics“

From the Carlos Enriquez Gonzalez Collection

While plastic and wood figurines are present as with most toys, in many cases these artists are taking their designs to a whole new level by using materials like fiber glass, bronze (Gabriels “Toys for Melancholics“ and Yosuke Ueno‘s “Hapiko“) and the extreme—gold and diamonds (think the “Lip Vagina Monster” by Carlos Enriquez Gonzalez). And as the saying goes, you’ve got to pay to play. So of course, when it comes to these bad boys, if you’re a novice, expect the prices to be steeper than what you’d find at let’s say, Toys R Us. (Like thousands for limited edition joints, man.) So the idea of a one-of-a-kind toy art gallery isn’t so far fetched, now is it?

The tale of the gallery with the kung fu grip began in the childhood of the man who would one day become its curator, Gino Joukar. “I was deprived as a kid, I never had any toys and I looked up to and wanted to be other kids who had great toy collections.” Years later, Joukar obliged his passion as an adult and began collecting in 2007. This obsession eventually led to the opening of the Toy Art Gallery (TAG), the world’s first and only toy gallery, which features metallic sculptures, colorful creatures and a transforming robot with the face of our current US president, better known as the “Gundama.”

Call Mr. Joukar selective because he’s ultra-meticulous about what makes it onto his gallery floor. “I base my decisions on who we carry and who we show at our galleries. They should have a following or collector base that will obviously attend the show when we have one. So it’s based on demand more than anything else. Who we show here is based on who our clients are collecting and who they would like to have in their collection.”

The creation of this gallery was about accommodating those, who like him, love toys and wish to admire their art 365 days a year, 24/7 and 360 degrees. “There were no galleries that focus or exclusively dedicate to this particular genre of 3d art. And we basically wanted to fill the void and start up a gallery that focuses exclusively on high end toys, or what we refer to as figurative art which is basically sculptures that lend themselves as toys,” Joukar says.

His desire doesn’t just end with drawing spectators and traders. His gallery was also designed to attract and promote top talent from the art world at large. And in just two short years that the gallery has been open, he has been successful in doing so.

TAG attracts people from all walks of life—not just toy enthusiasts, like himself. Whether you’re a collector, gallery junkie, a walk-in off the street, one of those art farts with the lorgnette glasses, or someone who’s kept your Lion-O or Optimus prime figurines in their original packets, there’s plenty here for you and more. “We get all kinds of people. We have first time collectors. We have well-established collectors that want to find the hard to find toys. We have celebrities, executives and just your average collector being our clients. But at the same time, we start up a lot of people on collecting toys and help them with their collections by introducing them to the right artist or brands that are attractive to them.”

To say that this rookie gallery is gaining traction is barely cutting the cheese. Outside of print and Internet media, Gino Joukar gave details of his gallery’s small screen debut. “We will also be featured on Virgin America. They have a show is called The Red Hot Show, where they feature the trendiest destinations and businesses. They are getting featured for June and July. So people flying Virgin America around the states will see a five minute segment about the gallery.” Sweet.

Sky’s the limit for this unique slice of modern subculture. “We actually have a lot of plans for expansion. We are in negotiation for 1800 square feet on Melrose right next to American Vintage, which is a landmark store. That particular block is known for being busy and the trendiest spot in LA. We’re moving to that location. We have plans on locations in other Metropolitan areas [like] NYC, San Fran[cisco], Miami…”

Don’t even expect to find any of these at Toys-r-us or Comic-Con. This is three-dimensional art. Canvas need not apply. And they’re referred to as “figurative art” for a reason: to remind everyone that toys aren’t strictly for child’s play. This is serious business. But only time will tell how long Gino’s Toy Art Gallery will prevail as the one and only. For now, this Hollywood location will be the Mecca for figurative designers and the collectors who follow.

Images courtesy of Toy Art Gallery.

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