Tobias Wong, Ballistic Rose, 2004; ballistic nylon; Collection SFMOMA, gift of CITIZEN: Citizen; © Estate of Tobias Wong; photo: Philip Wood.
Tobias Wong, Bulletproof Quilted Duvet, 2004, ballistic nylon, cotton, and cotton flannel; Collection SFMOMA, gift of Josee Lepage; © Estate of Tobias Wong; photo: courtesy SFMOMA.
Tobias Wong and Ju$t Another Rich Kid, Coke Spoon 01, Coke Spoon 02, and Swizzle Stick, from the Indulgent series, 2005; metal; Collection SFMOMA, purchase through the gift of an anonymous donor and gift of CITIZEN: Citizen; © Estate of Tobias Wong and Ju$t Another Rich Kid; photo: courtesy SFMOMA.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 Third Street
(between Mission and Howard Streets)
February 25-June 19, 2011
Tobias Wong is the first solo museum exhibition of the late artist-designer's work. Wong, who passed away at age 35 in June 2010, was widely recognized as design's most significant "bad boy" of the past decade.
Wong made his debut in 2001 and produced a protean body of work that he called "postinteresting." His practice encompassed objects, furniture, jewelry, lighting, installation, and performance and was infused with a distinctive mix of critical inquiry, conceptual pith, childlike wonder, and stubborn mischief. Wong focused on the allure of things, registering the fascination with and alienating effects of consumer culture, luxury brands, celebrity, and other forms of cultural seduction. A central theme of his work, especially in the years following 9/11, was the interplay of anxiety and materialism in America.
"Wong probed design's complicity with the culture of late capitalism, exposing its smoke and mirrors while exercising his own sleight of hand," states curator Henry Urbach. "This intimate exhibition may be seen as a shrine — a tribute to Tobi's creative intelligence and the evocative, even enigmatic quality of the objects he left behind."
Wong was born in Vancouver, B.C., in 1974 and studied architecture at the University of Toronto before completing a degree in sculpture at New York's Cooper Union in 2000. He continued to live and work in New York until his death. Inspired by numerous art and anti-art traditions, Wong brought to design a degree of critical scrutiny and conceptual moxie seldom seen. This approach — along with his penchant for appropriating and misappropriating the works of others — secured his reputation as a provocateur without equal. His debut piece, This is a Lamp (2001), recreated Philippe Starck's Bubble Club chair for Kartell as an illuminated sculpture. Wong released the work at New York's International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) exactly one day before Kartell launched the chair in the United States.
"Some companies and designers took to Wong's shenanigans, while other were not so charitable," Urbach states. Burberry, for example, ultimately used his Unauthorized Burberry Buttons from 1999 in their own advertising campaign. But Wong and sometimes collaborator Ju$t Another Rich Kid ran into trouble with McDonald's, which reacted forcefully against their gold-plated version of the fast food chain's discontinued coffee stirrer made notorious in the 1980s for its frequent appearance as evidence at drug trials.
Among more than 30 objects on view in the exhibition are 12 from SFMOMA's architecture and design collection, including Wong's Bulletproof Quilted Duvet (2004), a work made of black ballistic nylon lined with felt and crafted in a homey floral pattern. Other works on display include the NYC Story matchbook (2002), Killer Ring (2002), and Transcendental Meditation (2005), made in collaboration with Amelia Bauer and Swarovski, as well as Wong's final work: New York I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down (2010), a string of large wooden beads that spells out the title to an LCD Soundsystem song in Morse code.
Featuring more than 30 objects, the presentation is organized by Henry Urbach, SFMOMA Helen Hilton Raiser Curator of Architecture and Design.
Tobias Wong, Casper candle (pronounced in French only), 2003; crystal and paraffin oil; Collection SFMOMA, gift of Inform Interiors; © Estate of Tobias Wong; photo: James Wade.