Martin Wong: Human Instamatic opens May 14

Wed, May 11, 2016

May 14–August 7, the Wexner Center for the Arts will present Martin Wong: Human Instamatic, a comprehensive survey collecting more than 80 paintings from every stage of his career—formally inventive canvases that are in turn lyrical, gritty, and lovingly observant of the world as he found it. The Wexner Center is the first stop on a national tour for this widely acclaimed exhibition.

Human Instamatic takes its name after a term Wong coined to describe his skill at painting street portraits. This survey also includes fascinating, rarely seen archival materials, many of them from the Martin Wong Papers at Fales Library, New York University. Incorporating elements from classic Chinese art and homages to 20th-century American urban painting, whose traditions his own work was extending, Wong’s dazzling achievement is forcefully honored by this exhibition, which Hyperallergic called “one of the best museum shows to open last year.” 

Martin Wong: Human Instamatic is organized by the Bronx Museum of the Arts, and curated by Antonio Sergio Bessa, director of curatorial and education programs, and Yasmin Ramírez, adjunct curator.

A West Coast native born in 1946, the Chinese American artist came of age during San Francisco’s countercultural movements of the late 1960s. It was with his move to New York City in 1978 that Wong emerged as a visionary poet of the urban landscape. With the pregentrified Lower East Side as his home base, Wong became a key participant-witness in the visual art scenes exploding throughout Manhattan during the 1980s. His varied, often haunting paintings of that period vividly capture the multiethnic communities that he called home: from the bold looks of Chinatown to the beleaguered brick facades of tenement buildings adorned with graffiti and commercial signage. Wong returned to San Francisco in 1994 when falling ill from AIDS-related complications, and he continued to produce works of unique and intimate observation there until his untimely death in 1999.

An exhibition preview will take place Friday, May 13. Exhibition curators Antonio Sergio Bessa and Yasmin Ramírez will discuss the conception and development of Human Instamatic in a curator’s talk at 5 pm. A reception follows at 6 pm. Admission is free for all. On Thursday, May 19, the Wexner Center will screen Short Eyes from director Robert M. Young. This powerful film was adapted from Miguel Piñero’s award-winning play. Piñero was a longtime friend of Wong. Walk-in tours, free with gallery admission, will be available throughout the run of the exhibition, beginning Saturday, May 23.

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Martin Wong: Human Instamatic was organized by The Bronx Museum of the Arts and curated by Antonio Sergio Bessa, director of curatorial and education programs, and Yasmin Ramírez, adjunct curator.
The exhibition 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. Archival materials courtesy of The Estate of Martin Wong / P.P.O.W Gallery and the Fales Library of New York University.

Support for free and low-cost programs is provided by Huntington and Cardinal Health Foundation.

The Wexner Center receives general operating support from the Greater Columbus Arts Council, The Columbus Foundation, Nationwide Foundation, and the Ohio Arts Council. Generous support is also provided by the Corporate Annual Fund of the Wexner Center Foundation and Wexner Center members.