Tobias Wong’s arresting works on view at SFMOMA 

In a corner gallery at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, there’s an exhibit of the works of Tobias Wong. Dominated by a somber black wall, the show is a shrine to the late artist and designer — and well worth a visit.

Wong died last year in New York City at the age of 35. During his short time in the spotlight, he made a deep and lasting impression, looking at the interplay of anxiety and consumerism in a post-9/11 world.

“I want people to know what a significant thinker he was and what a significant contribution he made to our culture,” says Henry Urbach, the museum’s curator of architecture and design. “He was able to do something that was very hard to do ... [which was to] embrace and call into question the paradoxical nature of how we live.”

Wong freely reinterpreted the designs of others, often without approval. He took a book by designer Karim Rashid titled “I Want to Change the World” and cut it into the shape of a gun.

A pair of Tiffany pearl earrings are dipped in rubber, and Burberry’s trademark plaid appears on plastic buttons.

Collaborating with Ju$t Another Rich Kid, Wong created “Coke Spoon 02,” taking a discontinued McDonald’s coffee stirrer and covering it in gold.

The show, Urbach says, is about opposites. A black bulletproof duvet cover, for instance, is quilted in a homey pattern and lined with cozy gray felt. A cheap packet of cardboard matches, “NYC Story,” is carved into the city skyline.

“His body of work is really quite amazing,” Urbach says.

The exhibit includes the last work Wong made shortly before he died: a string of wooden beads that dangles from the ceiling. The beads spell out in Morse code the lyrics from a song by LCD Soundsystem: “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down.”

The Canadian-born artist, who suffered from sleep disorders, died nearly a year ago. Whether his death was self-inflicted, no one will ever know. Most likely it was not, Urbach says.

The show, which features more than 30 objects, is Wong’s first solo museum exhibit. In the next few weeks, Urbach says, the museum will be adding audio containing stories from Wong’s collaborators and friends.

Wong’s work is presented alongside the museum’s ParaDesign show. That exhibit, featuring objects drawn from SFMOMA’s architecture and design collection, looks at the interdisciplinary zone where artists, architects and designers work.

IF YOU GO

Tobias Wong

Where: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St., San Francisco
When: 11 a.m. to 5:45 daily, and until 8:45 p.m. Thursdays, closed Wednesdays; show closes June 19
Admission: $18 general, $12 seniors, $9 students, free for children under 12; half-price Thursdays after 6 p.m. and free the first Tuesday of each month
Contact: (415) 357-4000, www.sfmoma.org

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Cathy Bowman

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