The first time Dan Grayber built a beautiful, useless thing that held itself up was in 1998, at Hampshire College, in Massachusetts. He was a senior who’d dabbled in sculpture and product design, though when it came to the latter, he’d continually been frustrated by what he saw as the contrived nature of building things expressly to solve problems. “It seemed to be a bunch of people grasping for ideas to force some utility into,” he says of those early invention-centric courses. “With the first sculptures that held themselves up, I felt like I was getting rid of all of the aspects of the invention process I didn’t like.”
In 2004, Grayber began a several-year inquiry into mechanisms that clung to walls in one way or another–contraptions that used springs and weights and counterweights to claw their way into gallery drywall. In 2008, he built a spring-loaded gizmo that wedged itself inside a glass vitrine. That one felt right, and he’s been doing variations on the theme ever since.