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#ArtDept: The Paintings of Martin Wong

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Self Portrait, 1993

Chinese-American painter Martin Wong (1946-1999) combined Realism, Graffiti and Conceptualism in his astonishingly provocative art. Wong created Iglesia Pentecostal Mansion de Luz, a shadowy photograph of a Pentecostal church dipped in blood, and he did it in 1985, the year the FDA licensed the first commercial blood test to detect antibodies to HIV. It was the same year Rock Hudson was taken by HIV/AIDS, the year President Ronald Reagan mentioned AIDS publicly for the first time, and the year the U.S. military started blood-testing all men to reject those carrying the virus.

Down For The Count, 1985

Wong’s meticulous works of visionary realism left a legacy of the 1980s East Village Art Scene. From 1978 to 1987, the sleazy rundown East Village of Downtown Manhattan became the most exciting and controversial place in the art world, with wacked-out disenfranchised artists using their wits and energy, grabbing the international spotlight and for a one brief bright shining skuzzy moment, they changed the course of our culture.

Wong was born in Portland and grew up in San Francisco’s Chinatown. He had degree in ceramics from San Francisco Sate, participated in a gay performance art group in San Francisco and was expert in such diverse disciplines as Asian painting, calligraphy, sign language and decorative arts. His passions included, Fireman, American antiques, gift shop souvenirs of Chinatown, and especially graffiti art, which he acquired in such abundance that in 1993 he donated 300 works to the Museum of the City of New York.

Wong moved back to San Francisco in 1994 and was just 53-years-old when he was taken by the plague in 1999. At the apex of the East Village scene, Wong had carved out a territory all his own. His art was as culturally complex as his appearance, which was usually distinguished by cowboy clothing and a Fu Manchu mustache.

“Top Cat”, 1990

His work is well hung in major museums: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art (MoMa), the de Young Museum, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, Syracuse University Art Collection, the Whiney Museum of American Art, and in the Art Institute of Chicago. Martin’s estate is administered by the PPOW Gallery in NYC.

“The Annunciation According To Mikey Pinero, Cupcake And Paco, 1984

“Starry Night”, 1982

“I Really Like The Way Firemen Smell”, 1988

“Big Heat”, 1988


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