Michael Lau’s The Godfather Sculpture Series

Widely regarded as one of the most acclaimed and influential films of all time, the first entry in The Godfather film series, 1972’s The Godfather, follows the final decade in the life of Vito Corleone, the founder and patriarch of a fictional crime family. Portrayed by Marlon Brando, Corleone is a brutal businessman whose empire is built on gambling, bootlegging, and union corruption, but he is also a loyal and generous traditionalist, though one who demands that even his closest friends show respect by referring to him as “Don Corleone” or “Godfather”. And when it came to interpreting Corleone’s iconic appearance into a designer toy form, it only made sense that the artist asked to do so was the man commonly recognized as “The Godfather of the urban vinyl movement”, Michael Lau.

Michael Lau’s The Godfather Sculpture Series

Lau has been a preeminent practitioner within the designer toy movement since displaying his 101 Gardener pieces at the crazysmiles solo exhibition in 1999 (learn more here), an act commonly considered to have launched the urban vinyl aesthetic. Known, at the time, as one of the few artists that did their own designs, sculpts, resins, paint masters, and packaging, literally overseeing his productions from start to finish, it wasn’t surprising that the then-two-year-old production company MINDstyle International choose Lau to create the debut piece for their new Art Toy Collectibles, or ATC, line. And that work, one which would set the line’s tone of melding artistic voice and officially licensed merchandise, was Lau’s series of interpretations of the “Godfather”, which were first displayed publicly at the traveling Family Tradition exhibition.
Curated by Ron English, the Family Tradition group art show first opened its doors to the public on Sunday, July 9th, 2009, attendees being treated to paintings inspired by The Godfather film. With canvas works including contributions by Carlos Bautista, Robert Craig, Tristan Eaton, Clark Fox, Gibby Haynes (of the Butthole Surfers), Francesco Lo Castro, Travis Louie, Mike Shinoda (of Linkin Park), Mark Dean Veca, Eric White, Genevive Zacconi, and Chet Zar, these were displayed throughout the exhibition’s debut location, Los Angeles’ De La Barracuda. Set against a backdrop of black curtains that framed the space, these painted works were joined by four sculptural interpretations of the “Godfather” by Lau, each of which would become the basis for a limited vinyl edition piece.

Michael Lau’s The Godfather

Frequently referred to as the “Original” version, Lau’s The Godfather rendition is instantly granted dichotomy by envisioning Vito Corleone, who could be viewed as a puppeteer of men, as a marionette. But more than providing a simple query about “who’s pulling whose strings”, this choice allows for the logical inclusion of the hand controller bars atop, smartly designed to appear analogous to a religious cross. And this aspect is given a sense of greater appropriateness when one notes that the figure is holding a cat, placing this as an interpretation of the character from the first film’s opening scene, the wedding of Don Corleone’s daughter. Standing roughly 8-inches tall, or 12-inches with the marionette aspect, the vinyl edition of this design was limited to 300 pieces that were initially issued at the Family Tradition exhibition at De La Barracuda.

Michael Lau’s The Godfather (Version 2.0)

Though displayed at the De La Barracuda event, Lau’s The Godfather (Version 2.0) wouldn’t become officially available until the Malaysian stop of the traveling exhibition. Opening at Kuala Lumpur’s ZINC Art Space on December 12th, 2009, this white tuxedo attired rendition of The Godfather design was issued in an edition of 300 vinyl copies in what could be considered the “International Version”, as this rendition was the first time the form was readily available to collectors in Asia and Europe.

Michael Lau’s The Godfather (Classic)

Aside from its incredible pedigree and memorable design, Lau’s The Godfather series was also notable because it didn’t rely simply on color variations of the same form but rather explored several unique sculptural interpretations, such as The Godfather (Classic). Also known as the “Sitting Version”, this rendition incorporates Don Vito Corleone’s chair, the puppet-like form of the “Godfather” sitting upon it. Those that have seen the films will know that his chair was a huge part of the iconography in the series, symbolic as a throne to show Corleone’s power, related by Lau through the absence of his form’s marionette strings. But, within the films, this furnishing also conveys a sense of contemplation and isolation, attitudes perfectly captured by Lau in his form’s face. Alongside the The Godfather (Version 2.0), this Classic variation also debuted at the ZINC Art Space exhibition, though it was limited to a larger edition of 500 vinyl pieces.

Michael Lau’s The Godfather (Secret Version)

For its final iteration, Lau’s The Godfather appeared in the Secret Version, which has been referred to as the “Horse Head” variation. The most surreal of all the interpretations, Lau’s marionette inspired body is attired in pajamas and adorned with a horse’s head, immediately bringing to mind one of the most famous and visceral scenes from the film series. Released at New York City’s Family Tradition exhibition showing, which took place at the TT Underground on September 24th, 2010, these approximately 9-inch tall and 5½-inch wide vinyl figures were issued in ten different color variations, each limited to 50 piece editions: Light Blue, Dark Blue, Brown, Gray, Green, Orange, Pink, Purple, Red, and Yellow. And while it was stated when this project started that Paramount Licensing gave Lau carte blanche to create interesting forms that would translate beautifully into vinyl, it is perhaps the irreverant brilliance of this interpretation that proves how far that permission truly extended.

For more information on Michael Lau:
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