"Sweet Oblivion: The Urban Landscape of Martin Wong"
May 28 - September 13 1998
Over thirty paintings by Martin Wong (b. 1946) were featured in the mid-career artist's first museum survey. Following his move from San Francisco to New York in the early 1980s, Wong based his painting on urban subjects inspired by the graffiti and street poetry scene of New York's Lower East Side. Exploring poverty, prison, and the machismo of urban life, the exhibition confirmed Wong's status as a key interpreter of cultural and economic displacement. Self-taught as a painter (although schooled in ceramics), he has passionately documented the world around him with a directness and idiosyncratic vision that make him one of the truly original stylists emerging from the New York art scene of the 1980s. By the late 80s, Wong had created a cast of characters including homeboys, hip-hop dancers, boxers, firemen, and policemen interspersed with portraits of friends, his companion Miguel Pinero, and graffiti artists Daze, Lee, Sharp and LA2. In the 1990s, after Pinero's death, Wong changed course in a series of works that took his Chinese-American heritage as its subject. Far from drawing on classical images, Wong created paintings that are modern pop images, witty, half-realistic, half fantastic, juxtaposing images of his heroes Kato, Bruce Lee, and Buddha with Chinese opera stars and corner laundries.

This exhibition was co-organized by Dan Cameron, Senior Curator, New Museum, and Barry Blinderman, Director of the University Galleries at Illinois State University, Normal. A fully illustrated catalog co-published by Rizzoli International and the New Museum with essays by Dan Cameron, Barry Blinderman, Carlo McCormick, Yasmin Ramirez, and Lydia Yee is available.
New Museum curator
Guest curator
Partner museum
Courtesy the artist and New Museum, New York