The world out there is such a big dangerous place, it’s a good idea to protect children from it until they can fend for themselves—so often they are parked in bedrooms filled with toys that satisfy a yearning for adventure without taking any risks. Ben Stone has to be every boy’s favorite uncle—the kind who disappears into his workshop and two weeks later emerges with some clever, unique, imaginative toy that nobody else could have dreamed up, much less hand-crafted. Like a life-sized dog chasing a raccoon up a tree; or a floor-standing pair of baseball players swinging the same bat; or a three-masted schooner sailing across the floor; or an ornamental wall frieze of E.T. chatting up some children. Remember E.T.—the extra-terrestrial creature from a blockbuster film made thirty years ago? Maybe not, unless you’re as old as the artist and, actually, all of these toys seem to be more about the dreams and fantasies of his own childhood than anyone else’s, back before children could play in electronic, virtual realities.
Derived from the designs of mass produced dog toys, printed E.T. bedsheets and the like, everything is as well made as the commercial products that the artist must have had as a kid—but not any better, even if much bigger.
So, what’s the point? The work doesn’t feel distant and ironic, like the high-end kitsch made for Jeff Koons. Nor is there the nightmarish, surreal creepiness that kids of all ages enjoy. Stone’s toys are cute and tame. Neither do the works’ formal qualities transcend their narrative function, like the pieces of folk art found in major art museum collections. They feel no more valuable than the plywood, Styrofoam and polyester resin of which they were made. Perhaps it’s just a tribute to the junk that unavoidably clutters up the mind in childhood—and a defiant, out-sized assertion not to outgrow it, as if nothing else matters much anyhow. (Chris Miller)
Through January 25 at Western Exhibitions, 845 West Washington.