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Did you ever have (or encounter) a Stretch Armstrong Doll when you were young? First manufactured in 1976 by Kenner (the toy company best known for Star Wars action figures), Stretch Armstrong was this beefy jock guy who looked like he had been discovered in a YMCA lost & found. If you pulled on his rubber arms and legs they would just keep extending and extending to an obscene and improbable degree. The toy was made of latex with some otherworldly nightmare jalop inside (the internet tells me it was super refined corn syrup: apparently the toy inventor just went to A&P and bought a bunch of karo and cooked it down).

Anyway Stretch was an awesome toy. I knew this kid who had one and he had this game where he would grab the arms and you would grab the legs and then both children would pull as hard as possible…

then he would let go and Stretch Armstrong would fly into your face like a huge grubby rubber band on steroids causing you (or at least me) to fall over. It was like being molested by a C list wrestler!

I haven’t seen a Stretch in forty years, but for some reason I have been thinking about him (perhaps because he seemed like a lovable character but was secretly a dueling device). I feel like toys are really important to childhood development, but my reminiscences about Stretch Armstrong also make me wonder why this is so. Maybe he taught that we must be flexible to achieve our goals but we must also always remember that we live in an adversarial society (or maybe the lesson is really about the fundamental importance of corn syrup). Are there any toys that pop back into your head after decades?

Rubber Duck Kaohsiung (Florentijn Hofman, 2013 18 x 15 x 16 meters Inflatable, pontoon and generator)

Rubber Duck Kaohsiung (Florentijn Hofman, 2013
18 x 15 x 16 meters,  Inflatable, pontoon and generator)

I’m sorry to post two duck posts in a row, but events in the art world (and beyond) necessitate such a step.  On September 27th (2013), Pittsburgh , PA became the first U.S. city to host Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman’s giant floating rubber duck statue.  Actually the rubber duck now in Pittsburgh is only one of several giant ducks designed by Hofman for his worldwide show “Spreading Joy Around the World,” which launched in his native Amsterdam.  The largest of the ducks, which measured 26×20×32 metres (85×66×105 ft) and weighed over 600 kg (1,300 lb) was launched in Saint Nazaire in Western France.

Rubber Duck Kaohsiung (Florentijn Hofman,  2013 26 x 20 x 32 meters Inflatable, pontoon and generators)

Rubber Duck “Kaohsiung” (Florentijn Hofman, 2013
26 x 20 x 32 meters, Inflatable, pontoon and generators)

Hofman’s statues are meant to be fun and playful.  His website describes the purpose of the giant duck project simply, “The Rubber Duck knows no frontiers, it doesn’t discriminate people and doesn’t have a political connotation. The friendly, floating Rubber Duck has healing properties: it can relieve mondial tensions as well as define them.”

Feestaardvarken (Florentijn Hofman, 2013, Metal, concrete and coating)

Feestaardvarken (Florentijn Hofman, 2013, Metal, concrete and coating)

A list of his sculptural projects reveals that he has the generous and delighted soul of a toymaker.  A few example are instructive:  he erected a large plywood statue of a discarded plush rabbit named “Sunbathing Hare” in St. Petersburg, a concrete “party aardvark” in Arnhem (Holland), 2 immense slugs made of discarded shopping bags in France (they are crawling up a hill towards a towering gothic church and their inevitable death), and many other playful animal theme pieces.

Slow Slugs (Florentijn Hofman, 2012, Metal, football nets, and 40.000 plastic bags)

Slow Slugs (Florentijn Hofman, 2012, Metal, football nets, and 40.000 plastic bags)

Not only do Hofman’s works address fundamental Ferrebeekeeper themes like mollusks, art, mammals, and waterfowl, his work hints at the global nature of trade, and human cultural taste in our times. With his industrially crafted giant sculptures and his emphasis on ports around the world, Hofman’s huge toys speak directly to humankind’s delight with inexpensive mass-market products.  The art also provokes a frisson of horror at the oppressive gigantism of even our most frivolous pursuits).

florentijn-hofmans-giant-inflatable-rubber-duck-floats-to-hong-kong-2

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