Accessorizing Exeter

DSC_4800 copy

Many years ago, when she was a little girl growing up in Hong Kong, Christina J. Wang realized she had a sensitive neck. She couldn’t stand turtlenecks and especially hated the constraint of a barber’s robe. If anything was going to envelope her neck, it had to be soft. Perhaps, then, it’s no surprise that Wang, a gifted artist, ended up launching a collection of scarves in late 2014.

One evening in May, I go out to a pop-up store called Pop-Up for Dreamers on the Lower East Side to meet Wang and see her collection of scarves. When she arrives, she comes wielding a chocolate malt cake. The cake is about six inches high and has a series of layers. As I compliment her on it, I notice that a cake also appears on one of her scarves. Except instead of chocolate, it’s funfetti. “The drawings are a fetishizing of objects,” she says. “A desire for food, a desire of goods. I made a ramen scarf when I was on a diet.”

As we walk through the pop-up space, Wang shows me a scarf she’s recently designed that features a collage of her own sketches along with other drawings done by a dozen or so students at Phillips Exeter Academy, the boarding school she graduated from in 2005. In the center of the scarf there is an apple, an orange, and a banana. “The only three fruits you’ll find at the Exeter dining hall,” she explains. There are over 20 Exeter-related objects imprinted on the scarf, including a duck boot and a red foam hand. Wang says she wanted it to look as diverse and quirky as possible. “It was about asking other people to see what they were interested in, what their experiences were.”

When I call Wang’s old art teacher at Exeter, Tara Misenheimer—now the chair of the department of art who teaches several studio disciplines—Misenheimer paints a vivid picture of a young artist who was very in touch with fashion and the commercial world. “She was never afraid to try something new,” says Misenheimer. Wang, she tells me, later took a portfolio development course and produced paintings of Balenciaga bags and iPods with rhinestones “She was one of the most talented students we had at the time.”

A week after our initial meeting at the pop-up space, I call Wang, realizing that there’s something I don’t quite fully understand. Foolish, maybe, to even press her about it. After all, could the stories of her sensitive neck and desire to fetishize objects offer a better reason for pivoting a fine art career into applied art one? But I might as well.

Why, I ask her again, do you make scarves?

“It’s a new medium for my artistic ideas to exist,” she replies. “Depending on how you wear it, it takes on a new life. It’s about your own expression with my art piece.”