If you find yourself wandering through Whino, Ballston’s new immersive art, restaurant, and retail concept, be sure to browse the limited-edition designer toys up for sale. You could get your hands on a reimagined, nostalgic Wonder Woman figurine or a quirky Sriracha-inspired vinyl sculpture that might be worth a chunk of change in the future—if someone else doesn’t snap them up first.
“These pieces fly off the shelves,” says Shane Pomajambo, the Great Falls–based architect and curator behind Whino, which opened in June and focuses on the lowbrow/pop-surrealism movement. (The concept originated about 15 years ago in National Harbor as Art Whino.) These objects are part of a subculture that’s exploded in popularity, and Whino’s retail component serves as a way to introduce visitors—those getting into the scene and avid collectors alike—to lesser-known talents. “As a curator, I pick artists who haven’t [yet] had the exposure that they should have,” says Pomajambo. “So I give them [a space] before they blow up because it’s a lot easier to buy a $1,200 piece than a $12,000 one.”
It’s a byproduct of Pomajambo’s passion for custom collectibles. He once nabbed a KAWS Darth Vader for a couple hundred bucks; today, it’s worth upward of $13,000. “But I bought it because I like Star Wars.” The 3-D objects at Whino follow suit. They range in price from $100 to $300 and size from 8 to 24 inches; about 30 to 50, some in various editions or offered as one-offs, are on display at any given moment. New goods are added monthly; Pomajambo is working with distributors such as Kidrobot. As for the artists: The ever-changing list could include contemporary talent Ron English, Springfield creative Naturel, and Woes, a Hawaii-born acrylic painter. Folks can get the inside scoop by signing up for the newsletters; there will also be artist signing events to promote Whino exclusives or art exhibits. On September 16, Dragon76 will host a solo show and debut a designer toy. And Dragon76, by the way, is the same talent who painted the main bar’s ceiling mural.
But that’s one of the most telling aspects of Whino. Each element of the 6,200-square-foot open-concept venue flows into the next and is equally important to the overall picture. You’ll come for one aspect—like beer tastings or the art—and stay for the retail, says Pomajambo. And he doesn’t want you to think of it as a gift shop. Instead, it’s designed to be interactive and highly visual. A drum installation by artist Caratoes hangs overhead, and the collectibles are displayed in high-quality, well-lit, acrylic-topped boxes so you can’t help but turn your gaze to what’s inside. Says Pomajambo: “You’ll get swept up.” And maybe score a toy worth thousands one day.
What’s In Store
1. Float Away Artist: Meggs, $1600
2. DR76 Ouroboros (Gold Chrome) Artist: Dragon76, $300
3. Astro Boy—NY Mono Artist: Tezuka, $125
4. Wrecks Dazey Artist: Joe Ledbetter, $70
5. Bat Bear Artist: Luke Chueh, $150