Fantastic Toys: German Artist Monika Beisner’s Vintage Celebration of the Unselfconscious Imagination
By Maria Popova
A generation before David Byrne illustrated his delightful dingbat history of the future, and three years before the Italian artist, architect, and designer Luigi Serafini created his astonishing encyclopedia of imaginary objects, the German artist Monika Beisner anticipated both conceptual seeds in her 1973 gem Fantastic Toys (public library) — a wondrous catalogue of imaginary toys, ranging from jumping boots (“green with yellow laces”) for joining the birds to colossal inflatable flowers for peeing over garden walls to a Skipping Machine composed of giant wind-up dolls, each “gaily painted and waterproof.”
It is German in a subversive Goethe kind of way: poetic but playful, exultant without bombast — an unselfconscious celebration of childhood’s boundless imagination in which, as in Bach’s, “everything that is possible is real.”
Some items in this catalogue of delights, like sculpting an enormous bath-foam rabbit, are not entirely implausible against the laws of physics.
Some have become strange sidewise realities in the half-century since — the sheep toboggan with heated horns to hold onto calls to mind the heated handlebar gloves now common on food delivery electric bicycles, both technologies so unimaginable in 1973 as to approximate the fantastically impossible.
Some paint delightfully detailed vignettes of the imagination that become miniature fables — in her description of “The Organ Punch and Judy Show,” wherein the child plays the story of Punch and the Magic Flower, Beisner writes:
If you look carefully you can see that Punch has just found the Magic Flower after a long search. But the crocodile wants to eat it. When Judy shouts for help the policeman jumps out and knocks the crocodile back into its organ pipe. The boa constrictor is so pleased that he gives a flower to the girl’s cat.
Complement Fantastic Toys with How to Do Nothing with Nobody All Alone by Yourself — a kindred celebration of the grownup child’s imagination — then revisit To Believe in Things — poet Joseph Pintauro and artist Corita Kent’s lovely vintage children’s book for grownups celebrating the love of life in the face of finitude.
Published August 7, 2022