Carlo McCormick called the exhibition “ambitious and comprehensive,” and noting that the unique characteristics of Wong’ work are “wonderfully evident” throughout the exhibition. The article also notes that the curators present “a rigorous and scholarly effort” and were “faithful to [Wong’s] narrative.” Wong’s work is referred to as “epic in the best way.”
Martin Wong: Human Instamatic will be the first museum retrospective of the work of Chinese-American painter Martin Wong (1946-1999) since his untimely death. This project gains momentum from recent exhibitions examining Wong as a collector and source of inspiration for contemporary artists: City as Canvas (Museum of the City of New York, 2014); Dahn Vo, I M U U R 2 (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 2013); and Taiping Tianguo: Ai Weiwei, Frog King Kwok, Tehching Hsieh, and Martin Wong in New York (Para Site, Hong Kong, 2012; and e-flux, NY, 2014). In contrast, Human Instamatic will offer the first in-depth assessment of Wong’s formal contributions as a painter, placing his work in line with such 20th-century painters as Marsden Hartley and Alice Neel, both renowned for their insightful portraits of the communities in which they lived. Co-curated by Sergio Bessa and Yasmin Ramirez, the exhibition will feature over 90 of Wong’s paintings with rarely-seen archival materials from the Martin Wong Papers at the Fales Library of New York University.
Human Instamatic will explore Wong’s engagement with his community as a major concern of his practice. The exhibition will trace Wong’s development as an artist, beginning with his transition from an introspective youth in San Francisco painting haunting self-portraits to his self-identification in the mid-1970s as the “Human Instamatic,” a street artist selling portraits of passersby in Eureka, CA. Human Instamatic will highlight Wong’s later years in New York City, where he played a pivotal role in the Lower East Side (LES) arts scene in the 1980s/90s, a period in which he created an oeuvre immortalizing the vibrancy of a resilient, artistic, and multi-ethnic community facing displacement. The exhibition will feature Wong’s diaristic renderings of the LES Latino community, NYC’s Chinatown, graffiti artists, and later works created in San Francisco, where he returned in 1994. On view at the Bronx Museum from November 4, 2015 through March 13, 2016, this exhibition will travel to additional venues starting in the spring of 2016.
ABOUT MARTIN WONG
Born in Portland, Oregon, in 1946, Martin Wong was raised in San Francisco, California, and came of age during the city’s blossoming countercultural movement. He studied art at Humboldt State University (1964-1968) and after graduation worked closely with the legendary performance art collectives Angels of Light and the Cockettes in San Francisco. Wong created elaborate sets and costumes for these collectives and documented their work from a rare insider’s point of view. In 1978, Wong moved to New York City, first occupying a room at the Meyer's Hotel, which he described in a letter to a friend as the last remaining single occupancy hotel at the waterfront. In 1982, he relocated to the Lower East Side until his return to San Francisco in the late '90s, when he lived under his parents’ care while fighting AIDS. Martin Wong died in 1999.
ABOUT THE CURATORS
Sergio Bessa, Ph. D., is the Director of Curatorial and Educational Programs at the Bronx Museum. A concrete poetry scholar, Bessa has numerous essays published on the subject and is the author of Öyvind Fahlström—The Art of Writing. He is the editor of several volumes including Novas—Selected Writings of Haroldo de Campos, and Toward a Theory of Concrete Poetry—The Collected Writings of Mary Ellen Solt, and Beyond the Supersquare—Art and Architecture in Latin America. As a curator, Bessa has organized several exhibitions including the 3rd Trienal Poli/Grafica de San Juan (in collaboration with Deborah Cullen), 2012; Intersections—The Grand Concourse at 100 (2009), Joan Semmel—A Lucid Eye (2013), and Paulo Bruscky—Art is our Last Hope (2013) at The Bronx Museum of the Arts.
Yasmín Ramírez, Ph.D., is an art historian and Adjunct Curator at the Bronx Museum. She earned her Ph.D. in Art History from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and is currently writing a book based on her dissertation "Nuyorican Vanguards: The Puerto Rican Art Movement in New York, 1964-1984.” Dr. Ramirez was a research associate at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College, from 2006 to 2012 where she oversaw digitization of writings on Puerto Rican artists in the Center’s collection for inclusion in an on-line database of Latino and Latin American art organized by the International Center for Arts of the Americas at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Prior to her appointment at Hunter, Dr. Ramirez was adjunct curator at El Museo del Barrio from 1999-2001 and the curator of Taller Boricua from 1996-1998. Ramirez, a friend of Martin Wong’s for eighteen years, has published two important papers on his life and work (“The Life and Writings of Miguel Piñero in the Art of Martin Wong," Sweet Oblivion, New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1998; and “Martin Wong: Chino Malo,” Fresh Talk/Daring Gazes, Conversations on Asian American Art, University of California Press, 2003).
Martin Wong: Human Instamatic is supported by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Henry Luce Foundation, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, Eric Diefenbach and JK Brown, Florence Wong Fie and the Martin Wong Foundation, Melva Bucksbaum and Raymond Learsy, Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, P.P.O.W Gallery, and other individuals.
Eleanor Heartney calls the show “the culmination of [a] broad reassessment of Wong’s life and art,” and notes that the exhibition “makes the case that Wong’s prowess as a painter transcends semantic categories.”
Matthew Shen Goodman calls the show a “studied focus on Wong’s paintings” that is a “welcome shift” from previous exhibitions featuring the artist’s work.
In the magazine's print issue, Time Out New York’s Joseph R. Wolin states that the “admirable retrospective,” focuses on Wong’s “odes to a vanished downtown” which “remain his most indelible legacy.”
The online publication calls the exhibition an “insightful celebration…and indelible contribution to the artist’s legacy and reputation.” Hyperallergic contributer Tiernan Morgan notes that the show is “deftly curated,” is accompanied by an “excellent catalogue,” and that it was “undoubtedly one of the best museum shows to open last year.”
Heddaya writes that Martin Wong “speaks to the shortcomings of the critical-curatorial apparatus when faced with an artist who defies caricature periodization or an easy critical shorthand,” noting that prior exhibitions of his work have been “devastatingly scant” and that “a clearer picture of his legacy emerges instead at the Bronx Museum.”
Ysabelle Cheung writes, "Through the sensitive curation of the Bronx Museum’s Director of Curatorial and Education Programs Antonio Sergio Bessa and Adjunct Curator Yasmin Ramírez, Human Instamatic pays tribute not just to Wong’s work but to his life as well."
Holland Cotter notes that “fervor, desire, and coded insider-outsider knowledge crackle” throughout the exhibition. At the end, he closes with a personal reflection on Wong as a friend, writing: “what he’d do with the world today, I don’t know. Keep painting it, I guess: paint history, paint it with a global eye, which means paint it critically, which means paint it from the heart, which is where the Bronx show comes from.”
Brian Boucher calls the exhibition “a lavish and startling retrospective” and notes “one of the revelations of the show is that it includes some of Wong’s very earliest works, as well as some of his latest."
Peter Schjeldahl’s rave review calls the exhibition “crisply curated” and notes that it “affords a signal occasion to visit the Bronx Museum, a compact and handsome edifice on the Grand Concourse…”
David Ebony writes that the “long overdue” exhibition is a “sprawling and dazzling survey” of Wong’s work.
Andrew Russeth declares the exhibition to be “superb” and “ a revelation” and praises it for “finally” giving New York the opportunity to “take in the full scope of Wong’s achievement.”