The adventures of Mike & Nick had been a regular part of my life ever since we’d bonded one long night, discussing surreal and pop art with a soundtrack provided by Skinny Puppy playing in the background. I have many fond memories of our friendship, but this tale involves the last time we’d see of each other.

“Let’s go to the Neil Gaiman signing in Union Square,” Mike more stated than asked. As he shifted his tall frame, his metal spike-adorned jacket groaned in that way leather does. I nodded, not realizing that night would transform my life through a perfect storm of events. It was the roadway to my first real taste of what art could be, which consequently prepared me to embrace designer toys.

Friday, October 29th, 1999

A serpentine line of fellow Sandman fans weaved through the Virgin Megastore’s space. After an hour of entertaining ourselves with jokes and jests, we arrived at the table where the two creators behind The Sandman: The Dream Hunters sat.

We immediately elicited Gaiman’s signature, accompanying the request with a volley of conversational questions. I can’t remember what we asked exactly. Probably something akin to: “Why is this your first Sandman story in three years?” Or: “What inspired you to do a prose novel this time around?”

Shuffling our way down the table, we situated ourselves in front of Gaiman’s collaborator, artist Yoshitaka Amano. His translator stared at us, eager to do her job. Struggling to find a worthy question, I uttered: “How are you enjoying New York City?”

What happened next changed everything

Yoshitaka Amano's Hero Exhibition FlyerWhile he was drawing an illustration in my copy of the book, Amano’s interpreter conveyed my banal inquiry to him. He replied in Japanese, which she delivered as: “He is happy to have come and presented his exhibition.” Seeing the confused look on my face, she nodded slightly towards a booklet about Amano’s solo showcase Hero at the Angel Orensanz Foundation.

“We’re going,” I said to Mike while simultaneously handing him the packet. He looked a bit dumbfounded for a second but eagerly replied, “Okay!” As the rust-coated gears to Mike’s sedan ground to audible life, we pondered aloud. Having been to the former synagogue two years earlier, for a Death in June and NON concert, we couldn’t help but wonder how it would look when transformed into a gallery.

Entering Amano’s Art Exhibition

While the outside remained unchanged, the single room first floor’s spaciousness was elegantly disrupted by erected walls. Mike halted to admire the massive metallic plaque that greeted us, but I was eager to witness the sights. There was a spring in my step as I wandered towards the corridor’s end, a flickering light beckoning me. Fulfilling its unspoken promise, entering the main room was a revelation.

A mammoth screen issued forth the hazy glow that filled the chamber. Itself surrounded by various-sized television monitors, they all flickered Amano’s 23-minute animated masterpiece 1001 Nights into looped life. A further range of TVs projected Final Fantasy in various states of play, controllers inviting attendees to become commanders of the games’ fates.

Overwhelmed and delirious, I was slow to realize that we were underneath a winding line of carefully tied together kimonos, drawing my gaze towards the second floor of the massive exhibition.

Ascending the stairs are collages depicting skyscrapers, giving a sense that one was entering a more urban realm. But nothing was further from the truth. This upper level was some fictitious future museum’s attempt to piece together the time-traveling lifetime of Amano’s newest creations, Hero and his cyborg mount. Shards of ceramics, wall-sized paintings, unearthed pottery, and even dirt covered bones, all found a cohesive place here.

That’s when the realization struck

Amano wasn’t satisfied with honing his talent in a single medium but rather he was telling his story using all available resources to the fullest. Creativity was the only thing limiting and constraining his art; he didn’t let perceptions of what was art influence him. Under a skilled hand and a free mind, art could be rendered out of anything.

While this might sound like a rather mundane revelation, it was eye-opening to my freshly out of college brain. Much like Dorothy first gazing upon Oz, my black-and-white perception of art awakened into a Technicolor range of possibilities. After that, I was fully ready to discover and appreciate designer toys, something that would happen shortly.

And That’s How I Learned to Stop Overthinking Art and Love Art Toys.

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