Martin Wong: Queer Sex and the City

The painter Martin Wong shirtless at work in his studio Martin Wong painting in his studio, 1984 photo: Baird Jones

There is a fantastic show of works by Martin Wong touring right now: Malicious Mischief is the first European retrospective of the Chinese-American artist who was a trailblazer for queer art and counterculture. His career started in San Francisco and Eureka where he became a master potter and collaborated with the Angels of Light Free Theater. In the late 70s he moved to New York and started his emblematic painting style, mixing gritty street scenes with graffiti, sign language and Chinese iconography. He was a charismatic chronicler of the Lower East Side Latino scene and a witty critic of the art establishment‘s reactionary discourse.

This was in the 80s when the AIDS crisis was happening and gay sex was demonized. My favorite paintings are not the brick dicks but his series of dark gated storefronts. They instantly lead me back to „the Loisaida“ where I lived in the 90s two blocks from Wong‘s studio on Ridge Street. He died on August 12, 1999 – way to early.

Basically, I am a Chinese landscape painter. I paint landscapes so I guess that‘s it. If you look at all the Chinese landscapes in the museums, they have writing in the sky. They write a poem in the sky. And I do that.

Martin Wong, interview in East Village Eye 5, no. 48, Oct. 1984

Don’t miss his show! It was the must-see-exhibition at KW Institute for Contemporary Art during Gallery Weekend in Berlin, just opened at Camden Art Center in London (until September 17th) and will come to Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in November.

If you like this post please check out my text on Surrealism in Brussels and my review of Berlinale film festival and the Me-Too-themed movie Tár with Cate Blanchett.