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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Toys or Not Toys, But Still Art

New Tretyakov GalleryA. Guesner's "Woodcutter," from 1935-1936,

If you go inside Tretyakov Gallery this weekend, you can see more than two hundred toys on display — although a sign nearby says they are not toys.

They are and they aren't. The "Not Toys?!" exhibit brings together fifty Russian artists and their toys as a way of telling the history of Russian art through the medium of the toy.

The first part of the exhibit, "Children Avant-Guarde," has a set of fascinating rarities — mock-ups, puzzles and brain-teasers designed during the 1930s by the Institute of Scientific Experimentation of Zagorsk by A. Guesner, a mysterious person recently discovered by the show's curators. The games all bear a striking resemblance to avant-garde and suprematist art in some way.

As the exhibition goes on, the visitor time-travels through toy sections with titles like “Fetishes and Magical Objects,” “Altar Forms and Sanctuary,” “Toys as Subjects of Manipulations” and “Installations of Toys,” and he or she sees the way that contemporary artists have taken the toy and used it in their work.

“Think of a good toy installation — it is a children’s playground,” said Kirill Alexeyev, one of the exhibit's curators.

 One of the most interesting new works on display is an installation by Rostan Tavasiyev, a Russian conceptualist and resident artist at Aidan Gallery who is famous for using plush teddy bears.

"It doesn’t matter what I put as the main element of my project, if it were teddy bears, bunnies, elephants or elks, viewers take them for teddy bears anyway,” Tavasiyev said. 

The heroes of his installation, "Museums Surrender to Toys," are plush giraffes peacefully grazing in a fine art museum. Taking a closer look, one notices that the giraffes are actually attacking the museum and its masterpieces, chewing on some vegetation in a copy of a Mikhail Vrubel painting, trying to climb up Nicholas Roerich’s "Himalayas" or resting in a hammock made of a strip of an Alexei Savrasov canvas. The giraffes are definitely not toys.

 “Not Toys?!” runs till Nov. 8. New Tretyakov Gallery, 10 Krymsky Val, Halls No. 80-82. Metro Oktyabrskaya, Park Kultury. Tretyakovgallery.ru.