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The Art of Toys: A Left Coast Retrospective of Designer Toys

Guest Curated by Julie B. & Heidi Johnson

Main Gallery

Davis & Davis: Planet X

Wells Fargo Gallery

Moshe Elimelech: Arrangements

East Gallery

Thumperdome: History of the Pinball Machine

South Gallery

Woes Martin Mural

Main Gallery

Teddy Kelly Mural

Entry Atrium

Hueman Mural

Second Floor

HCA Presents: Munny on My Mind

Marroquin Classroom

The Art Of Toys: A Left Coast Retrospective

The Art Of Toys: A Left Coast Retrospective: Is the 20+ year evolution of the designer toy, as a celebrated art medium. A thriving movement, art toys are establishing a spot in American art history. So many artists have used this medium as a platform to extend their reach to fans and collectors, without the isolating costs associated with collecting original Pop Surrealism works.  Pop Surrealism, also known as Lowbrow Art, was an underground visual art movement originating in Los Angeles around the 1970’s.  It reflected the underground street culture and was filled with sarcastic and gleeful humor.  Our perspective as curators is from that of the creator, enthusiastic fan, the passionate collector and the cultural instigator. It’s a true collector's paradise with a massive history, that includes some of the biggest players in pop art today. By starting with West Coast popular culture we begin to begin to tell the story of designer toys from a historical, cultural, and social perspective. 

This exhibit explores a community of 80+ artists, including; Frank Kozik, Mark Ryden, Gary Baseman, Buff Monster, Joe Ledbetter, David Flores, Tristan Eaton, and Luke Chueh. Toys include fan favorites, as well as works significant to the creator’s careers. Many pieces are developed from original artwork that shares the creative process with the viewer. 

As important as the artists’ creation is the artists relationship with the producers and distributors of art toys. Companies like, Munky King, 3D Retro, Toy Art Gallery, DKE Toys, and Giant Robot to name a few, have built the bridge between art originals and limited editions to create a cultural phenomenon within the larger context of Pop Surrealism/Lowbrow Art. The resulting show brings together an awe inspiring collection of toys, sculpture installations, a variety of artwork including original sketches and molds, site-specific murals, and a curated retail space that is indicative to the world of Art Toys. This is an art toy paradise, sure to tickle just about anybody’s nerd bone. -Julie B. & Heidi Johnson

Davis & Davis: Planet X

“The search for Planet X began in 1841 as the search for the eighth planet in our solar system and continues today as the search for the eleventh. Planet X was first renamed Neptune, then Vulcan (Urbain Le Verrier's intra-Mercurial planet), then Pluto, then Niburu (Zecharia Sitchin's "12th planet") and now Xena (the recently discovered tenth planet). Planet X is not a real planet, but rather a placeholder for planets yet to be found. In a mathematical sense, it is a variable: X = n + 1, where n is the number of the last discovered planet. Planet X, in its role as the perpetually undiscovered sphere located at an ever-greater distance from the Earth, embodies both our hopes and our fears for the future.

Toy spacemen of the late 40s and early 50s combine a pre-Sputnik naiveté about space travel with a cold war paranoia about all things alien. Their art deco space suits feature bell jar helmets and back-slung, oxygen tanks; their elaborate ray guns bulge with deadly, high technology. Because they appeared before the dawn of the Space Age, they don't look like the astronauts we know today and seem to recall a future yet to come. For this series, we photograph these spacemen as they struggle with robots and other technology, with monsters and aliens, and with themselves in the barren, cratered landscape of Planet X.” -Davis & Davis

Davis & Davis have collaborated on a variety of photography, video, sculpture and installation projects over the last several years. Their interests include cinema, psychology, pop culture and fringe sciences. Davis & Davis have exhibited at the Riverside Art Museum, the Chelsea Museum of Art, the Ulrich Museum of Art and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, among other venues. Their work is in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Ulrich Museum of Art, California State University Los Angeles, Cal Polytechnic University Pomona, Cypress College and the Kinsey Research Institute as well as many private collections. Davis & Davis have Masters of Fine Arts degrees in Art/Photography and Media from the California Institute of the Arts. Santa Monica Press published a book of their photographs, Childish Things, in 2004.

Moshe Elimelech: Arrangements

Moshe Elimelech’s exhibition Arrangements showcases modular acrylic cube paintings that are colorful and interactive. Rectangular cradles house gridded cubes that invite viewers to turn, move and rearrange each piece. Influenced by a background in design and by the modernist art movements of optical and kinetic art, Moshe fuses formal elements of art with play.

Elimelech employs elements such as line, color, pattern, texture and tone to create varied designs on each cube that goes into Arrangements. Those cubes in turn, when placed beside others create new designs that could essentially be limitless, when placed at random by each individual that interacts with the artwork. Arrangements allows for viewers to express their unique vision of design aesthetics while at the same time enlivening their experience of paintings that are historically expected to be static.

Elimelech states “I paint these abstracted landscapes in a way for people to admire and interpret openly, leaving them visual cues for the play of imagination.”

Moshé Elimelech was exposed to the artistic process by observing his father’s technique as a master craftsman. He began his course of study at the Avni Art Institute in Israel and then went on to study at The Polytechnic Institute of Design in Tel Aviv. After two and a half years in the army working as an art director for the Israeli army publication house, Maarachot, Elimelech went on to Paris where he assisted the internationally known artist Yaakov Agam.

Elimelech was selected as a contributing artist for the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 and is a recipient of the Windsor Newton award by the Watercolor West Society. In addition to his current studio practice as a fine artist, Elimelech’s design work has been featured internationally, in galleries and museums, such as the Palm Springs Desert Museum, Las Vegas Art Museum, Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, Korean Cultural Center, Gallery 825, and at the Museum of Contemporary Art; as well as in the museum stores of Museum of Modern Art in New York and Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Thumperdome: History of the Pinball Machine

The modern pinball machine is a direct descendant of the French bagatelle games of the 1700s, which featured a playfield with wooden pegs, and balls that were introduced into the playfield with a pool cue. The French brought this amusement device to America during the American Revolution when they served as our allies against Great Britain. Here in America, the game further evolved using metal pins instead of dowels and the revolutionary introduction of the shooter rod in the early 1800s. The addition of the coin mechanism in the 1930s allowed people to play their troubles away for a penny and even win back some of their money as these “trade stimulators”, as they were called at the time, started becoming gambling devices.

The game resonated with people in the U.S. wanting cheap entertainment through the Great Depression-era economy. At that time most drugstores and taverns in the US operated pinball machines, with many locations quickly recovering the cost of the game. The entire machine was designed to be as eye-catching as possible, in order to attract players and their money; every possible space is filled with colorful graphics, blinking lights and themed objects, and the backglass is usually the first artwork the players see from a distance. Pinball was considered gambling; even the act of winning a replay is still banned in several states to this day. As time went on video games replaced pinball in the market, and manufactures were forced to enhance the technology within the pinball machines to be in competitive.

Thumperdome is the historic pinball collection of Amanda Cole and Art Perez located in Pasadena, CA. Both grew up in awe of the game with the silver ball, saving up their quarters to drop into the nearest pinball machine they could find. A chance find of a decaying [Evel Knievel” pinball machine gave Art the opportunity to restore his favorite] childhood machine and start the collection that would grow into Thumperdome. Amanda, who works in technology and art, is an artist/photographer with a background in engineering and together their combined interests and expertise are utilized to restore and rejuvenate machines which they have collected throughout the country.

The goal of Thumperdome is to preserve the history, technology, artwork and culture of pinball in America and promote pinball to future generations. Thumperdome houses one of the largest and most diverse private collections of pinball machines in the nation. The ever-rotating collection traverses the development of pinball machines from the early bagatelle-like games of the 1930s, to the introduction of pinball flippers in the 1940s until the 1980s and 90s when the threat of video games finally toppled pinball from the hearts of American fun-seekers. This collection shares the beauty of the machines and the challenge of the games to entertain, educate and captivate a new generation as technologies changed.

Aaron Woes Martin

Aaron “Angry Woebots” Martin aka “Woes Martin” grew up between the Hawaiian island Oahu and the western United States. He was greatly influenced by Saturday morning cartoons, kung fu and comic book cultures, which led him to be involved in the process of creation in some form. His strong passion for toys provided the avenue to design his own resin sculpture with partner Palmetto of Silent Stage Gallery, and through KidRobots Dunny platform. His focal medium is acrylic paintings on wood and canvas. Using minimal colors with detailed character design, these paintings are usually composed of aggravated pandas or bears conveying extreme emotions. The pandas tend to represent the story of struggle, humble beginnings and rolling with the punches. From Hawaii to the mainland U.S. and across the globe he continues to leave his mark, connecting with other artists and other cultures.

His creations have been shown in galleries throughout the United States, Southeast Asia, South Pacific and Europe. Woes has worked with many companies like Converse, Disney and Samsung, as well as been part of multiple publications for the art, designer toy and hip hop communities. His custom vinyl toys, Resin figures and collaborations have been showcased at Comic-Con San Diego, Comic-con New York, Designer Con Pasadena and Singapore Toy Con.

Teddy Kelly

Teddy Kelly is an artist and illustrator whose life and designs are the product of converging cultural influences. He grew up in Mazatlan, Mexico. He has been creating art since he could pick up a pen, drawing influence from both the Disney characters he’d see during childhood visits to the United States and his perspective of the immigrant-influenced culture of his hometown. Kelly grew up immersed in the subculture of surfing and skateboarding, inspired from a young age by the skateboard art that defined this culture. He moved to the United States after high school in search of an education, and fortunately also found a mentor and friend who taught him how to conceptualize his ideas. Teddy was awarded an honorable mention for Illustration by the American Institute of Graphic Arts while attending San Diego City College. His work has been featured in international exhibitions alongside some fine and skate art icons that have also inspired him throughout his life.


Hailing from northern California, Hueman is a Los Angeles based graffiti artist whose work can be found on common walls and in galleries worldwide. She works between the delicacy of canvas and massive city walls, playing with ideas of abstraction and figurative art mashed up with grotesque subjects. Playing is part of her creations, just as it is with her name she brings movement portrayed through various two-dimensional, flat surfaces and places them on the domineering walls of cityscapes. She states, “I am constantly seeking balance: between the beautiful and the grotesque, the abstract and the figurative, and that golden moment between being asleep and awake.” This balance can be found in the way Hueman creates, she is known for beginning a piece by energetically throwing paint and then conjuring up the composition through the stream of consciousness that follows.

Hueman earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Design and Media Arts from UCLA in 2008. Her work has been featured in the LA Times, Hypebeast, Juxtapoz, and caught the attention of CNN, The History Channel, NPR, and international magazines such as Players Magazine and Grab Magazine. She has had solo exhibitions in multiple L.A. based galleries, and exhibited in shows across the United States as well as internationally. Her featured client base includes Disney, Nike, Converse and American Express. She lives and works in Los Angeles.

HCA Presents: Munny on My Mind

Munny on my Mind is a unique, inter-disciplinary art class that blends design, sculpture, painting and conceptual art into one project. Youth from Arbor at Palmdale and Village Pointe in Lancaster were tasked with creating an art piece of their choosing by carefully establishing a theme and applying their concept to a Munny. Students used templates provided by Kid Robot to design their creations before moving on to customizing their Munny by using a wide range of materials including clay, markers, paint and yarn.

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