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.