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This Andy Warhol-Inspired Toy Line Funds Help For Other Artists

The Warhol Foundation, which funds arts organizations around the country, is licensing iconic pop art to increase its giving power.

For the uninitiated, the Dunny may seem like a strange pop cultural beast. It’s a line of vinyl toy rabbit figures, all with the same squat body, spherical head, and oddly tube-shaped ears. Their one defining characteristic is differing paint jobs, sort of like beanie babies for edgier, artistic-minded adults. Toy manufacturer Kidrobot stamps out sets in limited runs, giving them a rare collectible vibe.

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The company’s latest release, which launched this June, is Andy Warhol themed: There’s TV Dunny, whose face is painted to resemble a TV airing a color-test pattern (On back of each head is Warhol’s famous quote, “In the future everyone will be world famous for fifteen minutes.”) And Brillo Dunny, whose body is swirled in red and white, its visage emblazoned with “Brillo Soap Pads” in that brand’s iconic blocky script. Words like “New! on one ear and ‘Shines Aluminum Fast” across its belly drive home the feeling of a walking advertisement.

Brillo Dunny, whose body is swirled in red and white, its visage emblazoned with “Brillo Soap Pads” in that brand’s iconic blocky script. [Photo: courtesy Kidrobot]
Same goes for a Campbell’s Dunny, whose head sports a large recognizable Campbell’s logo with a tiny all-caps subscript–“CONDENSED”–beneath it and “Tomato Soup” written on the creature’s little tummy. (That one comes in a couple different color variations.) Yet another Dunny looks like it was simply covered in banana-themed wallpaper.

It’s an extension of a sold-out line that started in 2016, as part of a unique partnership between Kidrobot and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. The Warhol Foundation, which has a $327 million endowment gave out roughly $12.7 million last year to various nonprofit groups supporting its mission to encourage contemporary visual artists and arts writers.

It’s the Andy Warhol Dunny. [Photo: courtesy Kidrobot]
In recent years, Warhol has been growing its endowment with licensing deals like the one with Kidrobot, and also by selling off some of its inventory of original artwork in hopes of eventually being able to increase its annual grant making even more. Its total endowment has jumped $42 million since 2015. So far, annual payouts have stayed at about the same level, but the group has reportedly said it would like to up that by at least 30%.

Michael Hermann, the group’s director of licensing, says in an email the merchandising deal with Kidrobot fits Warhol’s “non-conformist vision” with a “fresh take on his legacy” that should allow the group to eventually more generously fund those who aren’t quite at the toy deal level.

The Warhol Foundation has given away over $275 million since its inception in 1987. On the writing side, it funds programs like the arts writing initiative, which supports everything from criticism to research with project-based grants of up to $50,000. On the art-making side, the group works with Creative Capital, an independent foundation that funds individual projects, which Warhol currently backed with a 10-year, $15 million grant to spur commissions.

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“The response to the line has been stellar.” [Photo: courtesy Kidrobot]
The organization does regional re-granting through partner arts groups in cities like Albuquerque, Baltimore, Chicago, and Houston, where it hopes it can spot emerging artists that need a patron. Those grants are generally small (up to $7,000), but the group has given several hundred of them over the last decade. That builds on a history of such work: Another program called The Warhol Initiative was originally designed to grow a collaborative network, offering 64 small and mid-sized arts organizations $125,000 and professional consulting to help them expand and build stability.

This isn’t the foundation’s first foray into toy land; there was another experiment a couple years ago with a group called Medicom Toy, which put out an artistic take on Andy Warhol himself as an action figure. Dunnys, which are primarily sold online and via a handful of vinyl toy retailers, appear different because the toys themselves act as a sort of canvas to riff on others work. (The Los Angles artist Sket One, for instance, did this personification of Sriracha.)

Kidrobot actually debuted its first Warhol-inspired Dunnys in 2016, but remains vague how many are in circulation and what the plan is for future rollouts, other than to say they are definitely coming. Everything is limited edition and often resold online as collectable, so that sense of mystery ostensibly adds to its street cred.

For this summer’s release, Kidrobot made 24 different 3-inch models. [Photo: courtesy Kidrobot]
“The response to the line has been stellar,” says creative director Frank Kozik in an email. Kozik, who gained his own cult following making collectable concert posters for Nirvana and the Beastie Boys, says it was Kidrobot that approached Warhol about the idea with the pitch that this was a play on the love and respect that Warhol showed for popular products and making art more accessible.

For this summer’s release, Kidrobot made 24 different 3-inch models (for instance, there’s three different takes on that soup can) that sell for around $12, but in so-called “blind-boxes” so they’re more collectable–like baseball cards. There’s also an 8-inch version of some designs variation that goes for $250. Among the earlier offerings, some 20″ Warhol Dunnys went for as much as $3,000. The company has trotted out at least one 4-foot tall version for a special occasion. Such giants are generally made to order and start at $5,000.

About the author

Ben Paynter is a senior writer at Fast Company covering social impact, the future of philanthropy, and innovative food companies. His work has appeared in Wired, Bloomberg Businessweek, and the New York Times, among other places.

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