With the effects of the pandemic driving demand in alternative asset investment, a new range of asset classes are emerging including trading cards, comics and limited edition toys; a phenomenon which has now transitioned into the art world.
Earlier this year, urban contemporary artist Mikael B collaborated with Topps baseball cards to produce the ultimate hybrid between collectibles and art, creating a Dodgers trading card adorned with his artwork. A harbinger for the future of art, the affordable price of collectibles, like trading card collaborations and fine art toys, offer an accessible entry point to the art market, and as a result have gained widespread popularity with collectors. Bridging the gap between art enthusiasts and collectors, the market for non-traditional art objects has grown exponentially over the past two decades with everything from KAWS’ Companion figures to Be@rbrick collectibles being sold both at art galleries and at auction.
The vibrancy and global nature of the collectible market will leave anyone with good sense frantically searching the attic for a long-forgotten treasure trove of childhood goods. Whether it be sports cards, trading cards, comics or toys, memorabilia from our youth are selling for astronomical figures, both at auction and online. In August 2014, a copy of the first ever comic to feature Superman, Action Comics No. 1 (1938), was sold for $3.25 million on eBay, becoming the most expensive comic book ever sold. Initially purchased for just 10 cents, the pristine comic made history for its record sale price. In January of this year also, a near mint condition Batman comic was bought for $2.22 million, becoming the second most expensive comic book sold at auction and proving that the lucrative nature of collectibles has lasting power.
However, it is not just comic books raking in high prices, rare Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! cards can also sell for over hundreds of thousands of dollars. The vitality and demand of the market has since prompted the foundation of many new authentication bodies, like the Certified Collectibles Group, who can authenticate and grade the quality and condition of your cards, alongside many other liquid assets.
So, what do limited edition Pikachu cards have to do with art? As it turns out, quite a lot.
In 1999, renowned urban artist KAWS was approached by Japanese toymaker and cult streetwear brand, Bounty Hunter. Travelling to Japan to find out more, KAWS was struck by the vivacity of the Japanese toy market and went on to create one with the brand. Named Companion, the vinyl sculpture was first released as a limited edition of 500, selling out almost immediately. Since then, his Companion figure has become the artist’s signature motif, recurring in artworks across his oeuvre, including a 115-foot-long inflatable version of the sculpture that floated in Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong, throughout March 2019.
The comparatively affordable price point of his lovable figures means that they are widely collected around the globe, with rarer editions available for a higher cost. KAWS’ toys were a catalyst for the artist’s ever-increasing popularity and in 2019, a new term was coined to describe the art world’s insatiable appetite for the creative and his vinyl sculptures. As ‘KAWSmania’ feverishly started to spread, other brands and artists began capitalising upon the success of his fine art toys, meaning that items which were once relegated as objects for children, were elevated to fine art.
From KidRobot’s Dunny figure to Be@arbricks by MediCom Toy, the world of toys and collectibles is expanding and evolving. Blue-chip artists like Yoshitomo Nara and Takashi Murakami, as well as the estates of revered creatives like Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, have all created their own toys, either independently or by collaborating with established brands. As the fine art world and pop culture move closer together, much like the closing gap between street wear and couture, we expect more artists to dip their toe in the pool of collectibles, suggesting that designer toys are here to stay.