Programs

todd falkowsky

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. A limited number of tickets are available to attend the opening night.

Subscribe to todd falkowsky