The Art/Design of Tobias Wong
By May Globus
Of all the Vancouver artists that became household names, like the Douglas Couplands and Jeff Walls of the world, the name Tobias Wong may not ring the same bell of recognition, except to the art folk, design world and cult fans that loved him well.
Having spent the first 20 years of his life in Vancouver, Tobias — known simply to family and friends as Tobi — took his talent and his witty, darkly funny take on society and consumerism to New York. There, he turned the art world and regular every day objects on their heads, producing provocative paraconceptual works both solo and in tandem with other creatives.
Tobi passed too soon at the age of 35, but not without leaving behind a collection of work fit for a Todd Falkowsky and Viviane Gosselin-curated retrospective at the Museum of Vancouver. Each work, either on loan from private collections or re-created especially for the exhibition, is introduced by text lovingly written by a friend or colleague.
His Ballistic Rose, made of a single strip of bulletproof nylon and intended to be worn on top of the heart, makes a statement about the concepts of love and fear. The Money Pad, comprised of one hundred $1 bills glued together and sold for $199 (the remaining profit was split between the artist, distributor and retailer), poked fun at the myth that artists make art for the passion, not the money.
From the New York City Story matchbooks to the McDonald’s plastic spoon dipped in gold to his giant “New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” morse code string of beads, Tobias’ works will forever make us question our insatiable need to consume.
His website, still up, contains a single sentence one would imagine was his final gift to the world:
“In a dream I saw a way to survive and I was full of joy.”