Play: Toys Reimagined as Art

September 10, 2017 – February 18, 2018
Taubman Museum of Art

“Play: Toys Reimagined as Art” highlighted artists who use toys to create magically transformative experiences for “the kid in all of us.” Play featured sculptures and site-specific installations by six artists working in diverse media from crayons to building blocks and inflatables. With its highly interactive and engaging artworks, Play focused on the similarities between how children and adults experience various playful habits of invention, such as curiosity, imagination, and problem solving.

Artistic processes tied to notions of play have historically attracted various 20th century artists such as avant-garde artist Marcel Duchamp who employed chess matches in his work, surrealist Salvador Dalí and his invention of the “exquisite corpse” game, and Fluxus group artists such as Yoko Ono who created participatory experiences like her Wish Tree and human scale White Chess Set to question corporate and global culture. Harkening back to those artist traditions revolving around gaming and play activities, the artists in Play use toys as a medium to explore how play helps us engage with the world around us by inviting us to be playful, a constant and lifelong activity.

The artists in “Play” incorporated media that have delighted children for generations such as LEGO®, Crayola® crayons, building blocks, and balloons. Florida artist Jason Hackenwerth, known for his organic and biomorphic forms made from thousands of latex balloons, reflect our childlike joy. Miami based sculptor Billie Grace Lynn’s inflatable sculptures spark discussion and raise awareness about environmental and conservation issues through her depiction of life-size elephants. Artist and chemist John V. Muntean experiments with LEGO® sculptures that play with light and shadow. British artist Jon Rolph makes stop-animation films using LEGO® parts to reinterpret famous works of fine art and popular movies. Nashville, Tennessee sculptor Herb Williams melds colorful Crayola® crayons into fantastically large sculptures using up to several hundred thousand wax sticks. Lexington, Kentucky artist and architect Jason Scroggin’s nostalgic sculptures are reminiscent of multiple generations’ favorite toy, wooden building blocks. Adopting recognizable and classic toys and transforming them into whimsical and delightful installations, films, and sculptures, each of the exhibiting artists welcome visitors to remember or for the first time experience the joys of childhood. “Play: Toys Reimagined as Art” explores the work of artists who borrow from play and games to reveal social, environmental, and cultural issues. From playfulness to mathematical strategy, the artists in Play create works that often involve the viewer and reflect on the nature of participation in art.

“Play: Toys Reimagined as Art” is curated by Amy G. Moorefield, Taubman Museum of Art Deputy Director of Exhibitions and Collections, with assistance by Eva Thornton, Taubman Museum of Art Curatorial Coordinator. This exhibition is generously supported in part by the City of Roanoke through its Arts Commission; Member One Federal Credit Union; Arkay Packaging; the Virginia Tourism Corporation and Virginia Is For Lovers™; the National Endowment for the Arts; and the Virginia Commission for the Arts.

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