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Custom Cooptation

I’ve just posted an article over at Adorablog about an art show featuring My Little Ponies. Didn’t want to put up any metacommentary there — it’s not really in the editorial vision of the site — but I just need to say that I think I understand how grafitti artists felt when some of their number began to be invited to do gallery shows in the early 80s. Not that I’m a pony customizer myself, but I’ve been writing, in fascination and in concern, about the custom community for long enough that I feel a little protective of them.

Here’s this giant show, in part sponsored by Hasbro, heavily attended by major fashion labels and high-profile artists, which has taken what is honestly a folk art movement and put it in a gallery — without, as far as I can tell, giving an invitation or even a nod to any of the Folk who invented this art form. And half of the ponies in the show are really no more or less imaginative than the ones the customizers do. Why should Paul Frank and Baby Phat get recognition for their uninspired pony customs when any old customizer may throw together Final Fantasy or Disney-themed customs and never once be recognized as innovative? Why might she be seen as “pathetic” when a handful of Japanese professional artists get seen as “clever” for doing the exact same thing? I guess I wouldn’t be half as irritated by this if the ponies at the art show weren’t selling for such a pretty penny. (Because you my not visit that link: the highest figure in that image is $15,000. Fifteen THOUSAND dollars for a reconstituted hunk of plastic. Lowest runs a couple hundred, which begins to approximate numbers I’ve seen for customizations of Breyer horses.) And I’m finding rumor on the net that Hasbro disapproves of the pony custom community. (I do imagine things like Borg ponies give them no end of legal headache.)

The one great thing I think came of this exhibition (not sure if it’s still running, but I have to say I am still dying to get in there, at least for the sake of posing these questions to the curators) is this ugly little number. The article which introduced me to this exhibition says that the artist never liked the toys she saw as a child, because they were too pretty and she felt too ugly to identify with them. As an adult, she makes lopsided stuffed animals — as well as this bulging-eyed, huge-nostriled, dull-haired monstrosity. Which really makes you think about the effect of not just introducing Barbie to your children, but any toy which is clean-edged and sparkly and perfect.

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