Who would have thought a version of a two-inch plastic toy, handed out for free at the World Character Convention in Tokyo 20 years ago, would sell at an art auction for $160,000?
Welcome to the bizarre world of Bearbricks -- a world Richmond auction house YKLM aims to introduce to local collectors.
For the uninitiated, Bearbricks are teddy bear figurines produced by the Japanese toy manufacturer Medicom. Most Bearbricks are about two inches tall but some are half that, while others stand a couple of feet high.
They’re described as “a mash-up of street culture and fine art,” by the online arts brokerage, Artsy.
“Bearbricks are so limited in supply and difficult to collect, it creates a lot of frenzies every time MediCom releases something new, especially in Asia,” said Berwin Chan, creative director at YKLM.
“Some common collectibles are not hard to obtain,” he added. “But the rarer ones are often sold for multiple times their original price because only celebrities own them.”
And that has been key to the Bearbrick phenomenon -- it has partnered with international artist and global brands to create extremely limited and highly coveted editions of the toy.
In fact, New York-based Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)’s website crashed in 2017 after announcing it had a limited supply of the Bearbrick designed by multimedia, international artist KAWS.
The YKLM auction house has seven Bearbricks up for bidding through silent auction. One is the Bearbrick Van Gogh Museum Self Portrait, featuring a wrap of the artist’s iconic self-portrait. It’s approximately 27.5 inches tall.
Bearbricks particularly resonate with younger audiences, according to Nicole Yang, the auction organizer.
In fact, some millennials and Gen Zers in China buy the toys with the hope of reselling them at a significant profit -- possible enough for a down payment on a mortgage, said Yang.
However, most collectors simply love the toy and their originality.
Most of the Bearbricks featured in YKLM’s auction are imported from art collectors in Asia, said Chan.
“I understand some people might scratch their heads and feel this Bearbrick frenzy in Asia doesn’t make any sense to them. But for young collectors, they represent creativity, uniqueness and sending a message to the world: we are all born special and free,” said Chan.
The Bearbrick auction will last throughout August. For more information, visit https://yklm.ca/.