If we look back, we see that the creation and development of toys is deeply rooted in the Bauhaus tradition. Students at the German art school were being encouraged to explore their own childhood and rethink the recreational and learning function of future toys. Functional design and the exploration of colour formed the key elements in the conception of these toys. For example, Alma Siedhoff-Buscher designed throw dolls and a ship building game that stimulated the motoric and tactile skills and Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack designed spinning tops that nurtured the ability to compete and the handling of loss. A great source of inspiration were their own children like Oskar Schlemmer’s daughter Karin for whom he conceived a jointed doll and Paul Klee’s son Felix for whom he created a cast of hand puppets. Avantgarde artists continued the playful approach of designing children’s toys like Pablo Picasso’s “petit cheval” that he created for his grandson Bernard and the wooden & paper dolls that he created for his own children.
Besides designing toys for children artists like Kandinsky, Klee, Picasso, Matisse, Miro and Dubuffet amassed sizeable collections of children’s drawings that served as sources of inspiration enabling a return to innocence that had been lost due to the Wars. Their passion for collecting was shared by Andy Warhol, who was an avid collector of cookie boxes, folk art, Art Deco and Jugendstil furniture, watches, jewellery and children’s toys. A big part of the objects was stockpiled in various rooms in his New York five-story townhouse, most of them still packed in the original box. As a collector Warhol can be described as a typical hunter collector for whom the catch was more important than the display of the bounty. After having secured the coveted object his focus shifted immediately to the next object of desire. Keeping the objects in their packaging resulted out of his idée fixe that waiting for something, in this case the unwrapping of the object, keeps the collector in a continuous state of anticipation. Incessantly feeling the impatient tingle without ever consuming the desire itself.
In 1983 Andy Warhol created a series of paintings for children that were commissioned by the Swiss gallerist Bruno Bischofberger, who himself was a father of two at the time. In Christopher Makos “Warhol: a personal photographic memoir” Bischofberger explains that every time he took his children to a museum, he had to lift them up so they could see the paintings. Regular exhibitions placed paintings too high up, so the children were excluded from enjoying art.
Based upon his own collection of children’s toys, the artist created a series of 128 toy paintings that depicted a variety of typical American and international toys. The Panda drummer , the Monkey, the Parrot, Roli Zoli (Hungary), the Apple (China), the Roll Over Mouse, the mechanical Terrier, the Space Ship, the Aeroplane (China), the Police Car, the Fips Wüstenspringmaus (former DDR), the small Fish (Russia), the Robot, the Choo Choo Train, the Helicopter (North Korea), the Ship and the Moon Explorer were all designed with bold lines and exciting colours. In the gallery that was decorated like a giant toy store, Bischofberger installed the toy paintings at the height of 3-5-year-olds on walls that were covered with a mesmerizing fish patterned wallpaper.
By using daring and flashy colours to attract the attention of the children (and their parents of course), by including trademarks and toy descriptions and by adding lines Warhol created the impression of a brand-new produced toy still wrapped in the original box. Warhol created, similar to the soup boxes and the Coca Cola bottles, an artistic product of mass consumption ready to be consumed with the eyes and mind of the average Joe but also by Liz Taylor and the president.
Like Marcel Duchamp shifted the public perception of what art is with his Readymades, so took Andy Warhol the notion of art to a whole new level by making use of the techniques of advertisement. Art did not need to be complicated, heroic or extraordinary. For Warhol the seemingly simplest things were the most profound. By elevating everyday objects and everyday life into art Warhol democratically lowered the threshold to interact with art. You as beholder did not need to be a specialist to get involved with it. You just needed to get in front of the painting and immerse yourself with the dashing colour palette and the economic design while playfully reflecting the sublimated subject matter of consumption, love, weapons, children’s toys, car crashes, shoes, composers, drag queens, electric chairs, cats etc.