By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“It was nuts. It was 6,000 people trying to get through a keyhole to buy this bear, clicking ‘refresh’ over and over again. It sold out in four minutes,” he says. “I don’t know. Sometimes I have a hard time with the whole thing. It’s primal, the need to collect. It’s an extension of when you were a kid, only now you have money and you have to have this toy on your desk. But why?”
Puleston does, however, own one very special vinyl doll, a Kaws “Companion.” He bought it at a time in his life when he and a friend had sworn off drinking. He used the $150 he saved from months of not buying beer to acquire the Companion.
Munky King’s Chinatown store was at one time a film location. The landlord wanted to convert the space to a retail location and kick out his tenant Patrick Lam, who was then using the space as a production facility for his filmmaking. Instead of leaving, Lam brought in a collection of vinyl toys he’d acquired in Hong Kong. The shop became a front for his film activities. The toys, however, which caught the eye of everyone who came to visit, eventually took over.
You slide down the Dunny hole at your own peril. Japanese toy makers won’t sell to American stores. Toy producers, afraid of copycats and of being preempted by rivals, are secretive about the identity of their manufacturers, most of which are in China. Designers keep hawklike watch over the molds to their sculpted toys because unscrupulous manufacturers have been known to produce knockoff dolls from unguarded molds. Toy sellers often e-mail announcements of coveted new toy releases a scant 12 hours before a sale begins to a select list of vinyl cognoscenti. You have to know somebody who knows somebody to get on the list. Established artists refuse to give advice to novices — if they had to weather the vinyl storms alone and unguided, had to move to China and learn to speak Chinese with the people in the factories to figure out how to breathe three-dimensional life into a paper sketch of an angry bear, why should newbies profit from this hard-won wisdom?
Some news, though, is hard to keep under wraps. Pop surrealist fine artist Mark Ryden, Lam reveals, is coming out with a vinyl toy soon, which is huge, since Ryden’s paintings fetch enormous prices. What is it?
“I can’t say,” Lam grins, sheepishly.
Nucleus in Alhambra has a small selection of vinyl art, but functions more as a gallery and retail art, book and clothing store, similar in some ways to Giant Robot’s GR2 space. Maybe they’ll get into it more in the future. Or maybe not, because there be dragons here (albeit cute ones). In the meantime, an elderly couple out for an afternoon stroll examines the store’s Mimobots. Those are, in my words, USB flash drives, or, in the manufacturer’s words, “friendly little data fiends; Feed the 2-inch monsters all your essential data and transport your files in style wherever you go.” The man stares for a long time at a painting of an upside-down vampire bat that could easily be a prototype for a vinyl doll. He scratches his white hair and says, “What possesses them to draw such things?”
Kidrobot, 7972 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 782-1411 or www.kidrobot.com.
Giant Robot, 2015 Sawtelle Blvd., L.A., (310) 478-1819 or www.giantrobot.com; GR2, 2062 Sawtelle Blvd., L.A., (310) 445-9276 or www.gr2.net
?Munky King, 441 Gin Ling Way, Chinatown, (213) 620-878; 7308 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 938-0091 or www.munkyking.com.
Nucleus, 30 W. Main St., Alhambra, (626) 458-7482 or www.gallerynucleus.com.