A compilation of random and interesting things, musings, musics, videos, and more. Brought to you by a UChicago student with a penchant for procrastination.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Robots Like Us

I always enjoy a good trip to the museum, and while New York was rife with fun museum-hopping material, it was the chance to visit the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago again a couple of Sundays ago that I found really great. I'd gone to the museum several times before, and while this time around I got a chance to see the surreal but utterly amazing Body Worlds 2 exhibit, there are certain permanent exhibits that never cease to amuse me.

So if you haven't yet visited the museum or are hoping to discover something fun on your next visit I'd definitely recommend the Robots Like Us exhibit. The vintage robots and robot-like creations it showcases really are the cream of the crop and make my design sensibilities all a-flutter.

Not only does this exhibit have a really wide collection of robots and space toys from the mid-twentieth century, it takes pride in the sci-fi culture that has since sprung up. The collection is interspersed by interesting focal pieces that definitely provide some true nerd-fodder. About halfway through the exhibit you can find a functioning theremin, a rather strange musical instrument used to produce the kooky sound effects of early sci-fi flicks (but mainly exploited by kids who loved getting it to produce the longest and shrillest possible screech). Other pieces include throwbacks to sci-fi shows and movies, with everything from the Daleks of Dr. Who, Rosie from the Jetsons, and a large Sentinel sculpture from The Matrix at the very end of the exhibit.

However, the toy collection really is the big attraction for me. With more than 200 pieces from the 'golden age' of robots, it showcases some of the most interesting toys to be produced during this time. Though I can't say how many of these were of Japanese origin (which also had a marked robot renaissance during this time) the pieces presented were definitely varied enough to satiate most individuals.

Here are some of my favorite robot characters from the exhibit, chosen for their quirkiness and overall vintage aesthetic. I don't know that they could've competed with the little plastic wind-up robot I had as a kid, but in all reality, who could resist their quirky charm?

Mr. Sandman is the ultimate transformer:
apparently he can be deconstructed for use as a pail, shovel, and watering can.
It's a good thing he doesn't have any wiring though!

This little guy definitely represented the big themes of this time period,
robots, outer space, and a love of tin ... delicious, delicious tin.

Two words: KROME DOME!

Remote controlled toys first got their start in this period, so its refreshing to see that they began to adopt so many interesting iterations.
Robot-space-drummer-boy? Sure!

The packaging was displayed separately from the toys in cases that were further down in the exhibit, yet these were just as interesting to look at - especially with the art style that made this time period distinctive. Fear the Mighty Robot, in all of its panic-stricken glory!

These robots all look so industrious ... although, I don't yet know what possible practical use robot "LAZOR-vision" might possess. Oh, Japan ...

Finally, the most amazing robot of the bunch.
... I'm somewhat confused though, if he's Batman (The Dark Knight of Gotham city) and a robot (so clearly he must posses some robot powers) then why in the world would he need to carry a gun? That is what's in his right hand? Right?

I hope this has given you a taste for how amazing this exhibit is and the Museum of Science and Industry can be. Also, if you have any further interest in looking into the culture and design that made this period of toy production so exciting I'd definitely recommend checking out some of the great robot books published on the subject:

Super #1 Robot: Japanese Robot Toys, 1972-1982 by Tim Brisko

Robots: Spaceships & Other Tin Toys by Yukio Shimizu

Blast Off! Rockets, Robots, Ray Guns, and Rarities from the Golden Age of Space Toys by S. Mark Young, Steve Duin, Mike Richardson, and Harlan Ellison

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