SPEL TOY EXHIBITION, NICOSIA, CYPRUS
I loved this exhibition. I had never been to a toy exhibition of this kind before, and so went without any preconceptions or expectations, and as a result ended up very pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. The exhibition was held at the relatively new State Gallery of Contemporary Art in Nicosia (SPEL) and displayed one of the world’s largest and most important private toy collections, belonging to Cypriot Renos Michaelides. I am privileged to know Michaelides personally and attended the exhibition’s private view which included a tour of the exhibition by him. He explained how as a boy he had received a large gift from a relative, comprising of many toys and his parents had decided that the gesture was excessive and dismissed his gift, never allowing him to receive his toys. He has been on a mission ever since to relocate as many of those toys as possible and obviously things went much further, his collection is vast and encompasses every toy genre one can think of.
The exhibition, which is only a selection of the full collection, ranged from a sculpture made of toys, ancient Greek toys, many large-scale Lego and Meccano pieces, a vast collection of toy cars, trains, planes, military toys, dolls, teddies, comic books, pin ball machines, robots, Nintendo game boys, Greek “καραγκιόζη” toys and comic books and much more. The collection was well curated throughout the spaces, separated thematically and beautifully displayed. By wondering through the exhibits, one couldn’t help but have a sense of wondering through history as the toys date from ancient Greece to the present day. The toys are not only beautifully made and emitters of the energy and childhood memories they have helped create, but they are of course historic documentations of the period they are from, reminding us of dress and accessory designs from every period. By journeying through the history of toys one also very clearly sees the evolution of technology, this evolution changed the way a child was able to interact with a toy, increasing interactive possibilities. Indeed, I cannot think of another kind of exhibition that shows all these aspects so clearly, objects which both depict history and display the cutting-edge technology of the day they were created in, not forgetting the evolution of material use. The toys in ancient Greece were terracotta, then they were made of wood, metal and porcelain etc and of course this then evolved into plastic. The exhibition reminds us of the speed to which technology has advanced. Seeing Nintendo game boys that I grew up with in the 80s that were so advanced then, and seem so dated now, just a few decades later. We also see how design has evolved and gender and race depiction, not just in the toys themselves but even in the graphic design and photography used in packaging.
The toys brought to the surface a deep sense of joyful nostalgia in me and memories of my childhood. The magic of toys for me is that they were the first thing that ever really triggered my imagination, together with reading and storytelling, they created new worlds for me. It’s great to be able to return to that magical world, as you realise it maybe never left you.