Randy Regier's toys are us.

Mind Games 

Randy Regier's toys are us.

If a kid were to plug that in, it would just shock the shit out of him," Randy Regier warns.

He's talking about his "Shokor X-7," a cylindrical metal robot wired with a 110-volt electrical cord. The Shokor's packaging promises that it "Stands and Falls Down" and emits a "Real Screaming Sound" (which no doubt comes from the unfortunate person holding it). "Plugging in toy can cause loss of life," its tag reads.

The other 22 airplanes, cars, boats, model kits and antique-looking toys on display at the Dennis Morgan Gallery also come with boxes touting their unmatched realism.

His "Taft Wood Kits" -- including "Fancy Coupe," "Nifty Truck" and "Swank Boat" -- each consist of a block of pine with the toy's name stenciled on the side in red spray paint. Attached to the wood block is a tiny, cheap folding knife with a red plastic handle "suitable for carving a ripe banana or perhaps something softer," Regier writes in his artist statement. But the boxes show shiny, well-constructed vehicles -- along with these words: "Paint and instructions not included. Actual results may vary wildly from box cover. User assumes all responsibility upon opening box."

"There's a lot of misrepresentation of toys," Regier explains. "There's a lot of adults behind toys -- maybe not deliberately manipulating children but nonetheless manipulating children."

Most of us had at least one experience with a highly coveted toy that ended up sucking, but Regier isn't creating art to heal such childhood wounds. A former auto-body painter from Salem, Oregon, he moved to Abilene, Kansas, with his wife and kids and began studying art at Kansas State University as a freshman when he was 33 years old. When he began restoring antique toys to pick up some extra cash, he began to appreciate their clever intricacies.

"I became keenly aware at that point how much goes on with toys, how subtle and yet how very powerful they are," he says.

One of the most striking things about this show is the way Regier's work appears to be from the early to middle 1900s. But he builds almost all of his pieces from scratch, using found objects or new materials that he ages with substances such as coffee or salt. He pulls text and images for his boxes and labels from old illustrations in ads, encyclopedias and children's books. In most cases, Regier's design and construction are impeccable, a testament to the years he spent as an auto-body man.

But the wit and social criticism in his work are revealed only on close examination. Regier makes up names for toy manufacturers -- Gypco, Nyeevatoy, Futilitoy -- suggesting that the suckers who hand over their allowances are good for a laugh. Regier says toys are like Trojan horses -- ways to catch people off guard and sneak new ideas and concepts past them. "They don't know what they are getting into before it's too late," he says.

"Master Race Set by Suprematoy" is Regier's commentary on how toys historically have been used to shape the psyches of their young owners. The box contains a long, sleek, silver race car manned by a driver wearing a helmet and goggles. At one end of the package are three cutouts of uniformed and smiling mechanics dressed in khaki uniforms with wrenches in their hands. Regier has made tiny scratches on the surfaces of their uniforms, referring to concerned American parents' World War II practice of covering other countries' symbols on foreign-made toys (like the recent renaming of french fries). Stored in the opposite end of the box is a short, rusty car driven by a gypsy in a head scarf. His heavily bearded mechanic wears a patchy leather outfit and grins like a crazy man.

"Although seemingly innocuous as a toy, it's not hard to imagine that the helmeted Anglo driver in the big silver car with three confident mechanics has to be the faster of the two," Regier writes in his artist's statement. The logical conclusion is that the Anglo crew is "superior."

With "Trophy Wife Not Included," Regier turns his attention to G.I. Joe and Barbie. "G.I. Joe and Barbie misrepresent what's going to happen in adulthood," he writes. "We really believe this shit when we're kids. These toys really represent what we think of as the adult reality." The box bills the toy as an "Ex G.I. Joe Action Soldier Suburban Bivouac Set" by Hasbin, with such alluring features as "Home Security" and "Appliance Grip Action." In Regier's vision, the former soldier settles down in the suburbs with his Barbielike wife; the resulting artwork consists of a balding, potbellied G.I. Joe doll wearing a pair of red sweatpants, an unbuttoned white shirt and one lacy white sock. He leans against the wood-paneled cupboard of a yellow-and-white-wallpapered kitchen, next to a piece of Barbie birthday cake sitting on a plate. He scratches his crotch as pink icing drips down his face and bare chest. "Trophy Wife" is amusing but not as successful as others in the show. It's one of the few pieces for which Regier has manipulated actual vintage toys rather than creating new but old-looking playthings. The mere combination of disparate found objects -- the macho military doll in a domestic setting -- isn't nearly as compelling as the other art, which looks like real, factory-manufactured toys.

Regier communicates his themes most effectively when he keeps things simple. The show's most clever piece is "Invismobile by Gypco," billed as an action toy from The Vanisher series on the NBS television network. On its box, a man in goggles and a helmet -- presumably the Vanisher -- is drawn behind the wheel of a sketchy car. In this case it's OK to touch the artwork (a fact that is lost on most gallery visitors), and people who pick up the box will think there's a toy inside -- it's heavy, and something rolls from one end to the other when the box is tilted. But the box is empty except for indentation marks on the cardboard; Regier has created the illusion with a false bottom that hides a weighted carriage. Of course, anyone who bought the toy would have paid for exactly what its box promised -- a car he or she couldn't see. "The kid's not old enough to know that the kid could possibly be right in thinking that he got ripped off," Regier writes. "Very early on we are conditioned to just accept that failure of the product as the norm."

Simplicity works for Regier aesthetically, too: The long, slender shape and shiny body of "El Peso Largo (The Long Weight) by Kid Master," a 110-pound red-and-black car cast of solid iron that sits in a specially made wooden box, is a captivating object to behold. But the car is so heavy that a child can't lift it, forcing the kid to wait until he's older and stronger before he can play with the object he desires.

By then, though, the kid's interest in toy cars likely will have died.


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