Designer Tobias Wong at the Museum of Vancouver

A retrospective of the work of Vancouver designer Tobias Wong (1974-2010) opens tonight at the Museum of Vancouver. It’s curated by Todd Falkowsky who, along with his colleagues at the Canadian Design Resource, has perhaps done more to promote Canadian design and designers than anyone else, at least in the last decade. Tobias died two years ago at the young age of 35. The Museum of Vancouver show in his memory is titled (Object)ing: The art/design of Tobias Wong, and it refers to the fact that Wong did make objects, but he made objects that questioned and often objected to the way in which we make and consume objects. His work sat on the border of art and design; he treated design as sculpture. This show brings Tobias’ work to Vancouver, his hometown.

I became more familiar with Tobias’ work when I was in a group design show with him at the Royal Ontario Museum. That show too was curated by Todd along with his colleagues at the well-known Canadian creative agency Motherbrand. It was titled Cut / Copy / Paste and featured work from designers whose methods employ various types of bricolage or re-purposing: perhaps recruiting an object recruited for a new use, or a designer  appropriating another designer’s work, or the hybridization of formerly distinct objects. In the photo below my piece is just behind Tobias’ renowned illuminated chair – a Philippe Starck chair to which he had added an internal lamp. (Photo below; mine’s a quilt made of souvenir, made-in-Japan “Amik” (beaver) mascot scarves from the Montreal 1976 Olympics.) Tobias’ chair will be on view at the MoV in this show.

Read also this article by Guy Keulemans on Tobi’s work; it’s one of the most informative.

For more infomation, see Marsha Lederman’s article on the current Museum of Vancouver show and Tobias’ work in general here. There is also this nice short bio from citizen:citizen:

originally from canada, tobias wong (b.1974) studied art at cooper union in new york city, where he graduated in sculpture. veering across disciplines and materials, wong has created an oeuvre that is immediately accessible, yet contentious. he pursues his own brand of conceptualism, the self coined “paraconceptual,” and “postinteresting,” and uses design as a medium, as he says, to expose the similarities between art and design, rather than to blur their boundaries.

Tobias’ Savoy doorstop, created by pouring concrete into Alvar Aalto’s famous Savoy vase (below). Its production requires the destruction of the vase, thus relegating the glass status object to the function of a mere mold.

Todd Falkowsky’s short introduction to the show is reprinted here from the Museum of Vancouver website:

Welcoming Tobias Home

By Todd Falkowsky, co-curator of Object(ing): The art/design of Tobias Wong

The first time I met Tobias Wong was in New York City in 2004, where we both had shows at the Felissimo House. As I was setting up my space, a small, very pleasant guy kept circling around and nodding his approval at what we were installing. As we were finishing, he finally came forward and introduced himself as a “big fan”. We chatted about the work and he shared some thoughts. It was only after he left, when I asked the curator who he was, did I find out that it was Tobias. Humble, interested, and filled with ideas. It was a genuine pleasure to meet someone with so much talent introduce himself as a fan when in fact he was a celebrated artist/designer with his star on an explosive rise. Well, the feeling was mutual.

I knew that designers appreciated Tobi’s work, but I realized his influence had run deeper when I was teaching at OCAD in Toronto. I was pleasantly surprised by how many design students wanted to do work like his. They were not looking to be designers in the traditional sense, but to become provocative and use product design as a mirror and comment on the status and purpose of our culture. They did not want to be Starck or Rashid; instead they wanted to be Tobias Wong, the artist who used design to break the rules. Tobi’s ideas and approach had impact on design practice, inviting designers to use their craft to create serious meaning and new ways of interacting with our communities.

Our paths continued to cross over the years and though we were able to work together a handful of times, we always talked about future projects to collaborate on, new shows, products, and publications. That opportunity was not meant to be — a reminder to grab the chances you have and to do the things you really want to do today, rather than tomorrow. I brought Tobias to Toronto in January 2010 for one of his last lectures, and showed his iconic “This is a Lamp” at the accompanying exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum. This was the last time I talked to him.

Later that spring, upon learning of his passing, I immediately suspected that it was not real; the whole thing seemed surreal and mad, and in line with the shock that Tobi’s work sometimes embraced. I thought it was another irreverent yet more potent stunt, ratcheted up from past projects like his Core77 lecture or the elaborate installation, the Wrong Store in Manhattan. Reality settled in and as heartbreaking a loss it was for the art and design community, I felt his ideas and products would endure, and that his work should continue to be seen, discussed, and celebrated.

I had just moved to Vancouver and it struck me that Tobias’ international success deserved a long overdue homecoming, in the city where he was born and raised (and perhaps where his ideas had their beginning). For me, his work was avant-garde, blending design and art, opening both professions up to new directions; work that is still important and deserves to be promoted and shared.

The Museum of Vancouver has graciously opened their doors to me, and the idea for this show, bringing the work of this remarkable Vancouverite home. Tobi’s family, close friends, colleagues, and fans have opened their hearts to share with us their thoughts and experience to understand and contextualize the work (not to mention lending it to us in the first place). I am honoured to have played a part in bringing this exhibition together. I hope Tobias’ work lives on and continues to inspire, disrupt, and provoke.

Object(ing) opens to the public September 20, 2012.

“Smoking mittens”




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