Self Portrait. Credit: Philip Greenberg for The NewYork Times
“Martin Wong: Human Instamatic” covers the full trajectory of this Chinese American painter from his Bay Area roots to his pivotal role in documenting the multicultural environs of the Lower East Side of New York. Organized by Sergio Bessa and Yasmin Ramirez, and with nearly a hundred paintings, it brings to New York for the first time a complete view of one of our great urban visionaries, from his precocious juvenilia to the unearthly little pictures from the year before his death from AIDS.
The late, great Martin Wong (1946–99) arrived in New York in 1978 and quickly became a bard of the pre-gentrified Lower East Side, with moody depictions of burned-out tenements, often graced by hunky male Latinos.
“The Annunciation According to Mikey Piñero Cupcake and Paco”-1984.-Credit: Syracuse University Art Collection
Big Heat 1988. Credit: Philip Greenberg for The New York Times
Through the sensitive curation of the Bronx Museum’s Director of Curatorial and Education Programs, Human Instamatic pays tribute not just to Wong’s work but to his life as well. The exhibition chronologically tracks Wong’s speedy exit from California and his move to the Lower East Side, where he starting working as a night porter at South Street’s Meyer’s Hotel in 1978. The irregularity and loneliness of the job led Wong to sympathize with those who struggled to communicate, specifically the deaf and mute, and to identify with the trope of the mad artist tortured by inner voices.
“My Secret World 1978-1981”-1984. Credit: Collection of Melva Bucksbaum and Raymond Learsy
The current exhibition focuses on Wong as a creative force, organizing his paintings and some early archival material into chronological and thematic chapters, including self-portraits from his teenage years, a few early ceramics, and a rare, large-scale triptych from the late 1970s. But the exhibition is dominated by work made during Wong’s densely prolific New York years, including his sign language paintings, paintings and poetry collaborations with his friend and poet Miguel Piñero, his prison and storefront paintings, as well as his almost jarring late turn toward subjects relating to Chinatown and Chinese-American stereotypes and kitsch.
Bronx Museum of the Arts
1040 Grand Concourse
Until February 14 2016