Few Canadian designers challenge convention the way Tobias Wong did during his career – and by the age of 35. Before his untimely death two years ago, Wong produced several pieces beautiful and provocative enough to find their way into MoMA, SFMoMA and the Cooper Hewitt’s National Design Museum. Curated by Todd Falkowsky and Viviane Gosselin, and opening tomorrow, the Museum of Vancouver’s Object(ing): The Art/Design of Tobias Wong is the first solo exhibit to survey the entirety of Wong’s work, painstakingly amassing or recreating his dozens of pieces.
Born and raised in Vancouver, Wong studied in Toronto before moving to New York for what would be his most productive years. Wong’s unique style frequently recast luxury or design goods in ways that were witty or inflammatory, often both simultaneously. For This Is A Lamp, Wong simply placed a light source inside a plastic Philippe Starck chair – a Dadaist move that may not have been outrageous in itself, but raised eyebrows when it was unveiled before the Kartell original had officially debuted.
Wong produced Bullet Proof Rose in 2005. The floral brooch, made from Kevlar, juxtaposed fashion against the contemporaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The exhibition includes multiple references to the September 11 attacks, but Wong’s sentimental side is also on display in pieces like a pair of clocks called Perfect Lovers (Forever) and Sun Jars – frosted containers that collect solar power all day and emit a warm glow after dark.
These pieces appear alongside dozens of other examples of Wong’s tightrope walk between art and design: a notepad made from a stack of genuine dollar bills; a wall organizer assembled from a grid of desktop note spikes; an engagement ring with the gem inverted and pointing lethally outward. More than fifty collectors, curators and artists from across North America and the U.K. participated in procuring originals wherever possible. In the case of impermanent works, including a room partition made entirely from stacked electric fans, original documentation and input from Wong’s collaborators were used to produce reissues for this exhibit.
Object(ing): The Art/Design of Tobias Wong runs from September 20 to February 24 at the Museum of Vancouver, 1100 Chestnut St.