The Missing Link: How toys can connect lowbrow and mainstream culture

As if we need more entertainment, a double-whammy of an event hit Belmont on Sept. 15. Bigfoot One, Bay Area’s titanic and longhaired graffiti artist, had an art show kick-off party at Belmont’s new art-toy shop and gallery, the Missing Link. Artists, gallery owners, major toy collectors and curious people were overflowing from the building onto the drunken sidewalk.

When asked why the neighborhood needed an art-toy gallery, as opposed to a joke-toy shop or a doggy biscuit bakery, owner Richard Satnick answered “you can only sell so many whoopee cushions.” Barbara Stutz, who worked with Satnick to drive the gallery into reality, thinks the neighborhood has a “true understanding of what is bohemian,” meaning the community surrounding the shop embraces alternative lifestyles and art forms. Jan Semenza, a City Repair board member and radically active sustainable community leader was among the crowd. Semenza thinks that an active art scene will “enrich the urban experience.” However, one has to admit how strange this is, worshiping mass-produced plastic junk and calling it “art.”

If you are not paying attention to the art-toy movement you had better start. There is an inherent attraction to toys. Face it folks, we were brainwashed throughout childhood to obsess over toys. Most of us, however, snapped out of it and realized that an addiction to rabid consumerism wouldn’t fulfill our lives.

Just like He-Man, Rainbow Bright, and Popeye, the art-toy is a cultural creation that reflects who we are, or how we see ourselves. Specifically though, the art-toy is a 3-D version of an artist’s 2-D character. Bigfoot One, for example, has an art-toy of his classic Bigfoot character, which started out as a graffiti character. In a way, art-toys make street culture/art more tangible for mainstream culture/art. The art-toy connects the mainstream with the underground, but is this a good idea?

The art-toy is important and won’t go away, but will it be remembered as a good movement? Do art-toys reinforce the gestures and ideals of the underground art scene or undermine them? If they are mass-produced is the sincerity totally discarded? Was sincerity ever expressed by underground art, or have these artists been so hungry for fame and riches that they forgot that the “outsider,” “lowbrow,” and/or “underground” art community is in a position to discover the undercurrents and the meaning of the human experience? Who are we and what are we doing? If a toy can answer these questions, then I guess I want one too. 

Missing Link is located at 3314 S.E. Belmont St. Check it out.