While on my run last night I explored the impressive new space of Rotofugi, the store named after the vinyl roto-casted toys that originated in Japan and Hong Kong, and the owners’ beagle-shihtzu Fugi. Shelves are lined with small vinyl figurines priced from under $10 to over $50, and larger ones that go up to as much as $400. The reasoning for the pricing is that they are not mass-produced toys, but limited run art, with figurines often named after the artist who made them. This also implies the possibility that the value could go up after purchasing them, much like Hummels did. Those are the figurines made by the nun Maria Innocentia Hummel, debuting in Germany in 1935. Soldiers brought them home from WW II to their girlfriends, wives and parents who thought they were cute. Despite the parent company Goebel upping the production, many of the figurines started fetching increasingly high prices, some over $300 each. However, collectors who planned to make a nice profit from them are out of luck if they didn’t unload them by the 90s, as they have all drastically dropped in value as they fell out of favor with younger generations who thought they were too saccharine. Same with the religious knock-offs Precious Moments that came out in 1989.
So what do the kids (and adults into their 40s and 50s) want? Something that reflects their own culture, from Japanese anime cartoons, comics and toys to horror movies, heavy metal, video games and often the macabre sensibilities and humor of Charles Addams, Edward Gorey and Tim Burton. The results are the vinyl art featured at Rotofugi that manage to be both cute and sinister, like the latest set offered by the Kidrobot company of a bunch of bunnies depicted as the Grim Reaper’s henchmen. The Apocalypse Series Dunny debuted on November 8 with the slogan, “Death comes in many forms.” There are 15 designs by 12 artists depicting varying versions of Doomsday with angels of death, soapbox protestors, Mayan feathered serpents and toxic meltdowns. Rotofugi celebrated with an event where people came and had kool-aid and twinkies and brought Dunny figurines to trade. Trading is an necessary part of this subculture, as the boxes are sold “blind,” which means you could get duplicates even if you buy a set of 16 for $159.20 plus tax.
Part of me thinks, WTF are people spending so much money on such useless stuff that just sits there looking cute and evil, taking up space that we don’t have and collecting dust? Another part of me goes, “I WANT THAT.” I seriously do, it pushes all my cultural buttons for sure. They look like they would happily, gleefully kill me in my sleep, but they would just look sooo cute while doing it. In 1935 it was no understatement that people struggled with similar issues on a more serious scale, many still suffering from the Great Depression where they were still worrying about affording the bare essentials of food and shelter. By the time WW II ended, buying Hummel figurines represented a new and unique luxury for many working and emerging middle class people of being able to buy things you don’t need. With our current recession stretching out indefinitely, it’s still a luxury not everyone can afford. But those who can restrain from collecting can still dip their toe in with a single $8.95 figurine. I’m tempted to buy a couple for my work’s White Elephant party, if just to see the bemused/horrified looks when they unwrap their random gift and discover a hapless bunny covered in toxic waste. “Is this supposed to be a Christmas tree decoration???”
Rotofugi also has a great art gallery space. The current show is called Souls Gone Mad, featuring Mark Landwehr and Coarse (Sven Waschk) which features paintings and fiberglass and resin sculptures, including “Soul Shaker,” the giant centerpiece fiberglass sculpture of a skeletal creature riding a (dreaming?) human boy while watched by an eerie owl. You can put in a coin to set it into motion, and can be all yours for $12,500.
There’s also some drawings and paintings available from previous shows. One of my favorites is “Then Came The Shadows,” the title piece by Mark Brown, still available for $1,500.