Casper, 2003

Tobias Wong

Location: Brooklyn, New York
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Tobias Wong is a provocateur who creates the unexpected from the everyday and the everyday from the unexpected. Wong’s approach to his work situates him somewhere in between the worlds of art and design. He is interested in this somewhat murky threshold, and his work challenges our assumptions that design objects should perform a function while art objects transcend function.

Wong’s pieces contain healthy doses of humor, beauty, irony, and craft. He treats design as a medium, rather than a discipline, to show how it can embrace an aesthetic sensibility traditionally relegated to the fine arts. His interest in the conundrum of practicing simultaneously in both the design and art worlds is such that he coined the term “paraconceptual” to describe his method of dismantling the hierarchies between the two. He often appropriates classic design objects and refashions them into something new that, in many cases, is a denial of the object’s original function. He calls these pieces “readydesigneds,” in a play on Marcel Duchamp’s readymades. For example, he made a doorstop cast inside the iconic Savoy vase by Alvar Aalto, which had to be smashed to reveal the new object. A duvet cover is crafted in the traditional whole cloth quilting technique, but the fabric is black bulletproof nylon. Casper is a candlestick that has the form of a traditional base and candle, but is in fact a single piece made entirely of crystal, with the “candle” filled with paraffin oil, meaning that it will never have to be replaced. His crystal chandelier for Swarovski is almost hidden by the black shade wrapped around it; the Knoll table designed by Eero Saarinen, which sits below it, is an essential element of Wong’s design. The Disposable Crystal Cup, a sixteen-ounce paper cup printed with a trompe l’oeil crystal pattern, shows how Wong can take the most mundane product and infuse it with both humor and beauty, brilliantly confounding our notions of luxury. With his paraconceptual work, Wong has succeeded in reconciling cultural commentary with aesthetics. We can enjoy his objects even without understanding their conceptual underpinnings.