Martin Wong: Human Instamatic is the first large-scale retrospective of the work of Chinese American painter Martin Wong (1946–1999) since his untimely death from AIDS-related causes in 1999. Featuring more than one hundred paintings paired with rarely seen archival materials, the exhibition pays particular attention to Wong’s engagement with his community as part of his practice. It traces his artistic development from his 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 to passersby in Eureka, California. Human Instamatic also highlights Wong’s later years in New York City, where he played a pivotal role in the Lower East Side art scene of the 1980s and 1990s, immortalizing in his works a resilient, vibrant, and multiethnic community facing displacement.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website.
Whether or not you go, the book Martin Wong: Human Instamatic, explores the work of Chinese American artist Martin Wong (1946-1999), tracing his transition from an introspective youth in San Francisco painting haunting self-portraits, to his subsequent engagements with communities in the Bay Area and later New York City. In the late 1960s and 1970s, Wong became an active participant in the thriving countercultural movement in California, where he collaborated with the radical queer performance groups Cockettes and Angels of Light. In 1978, Wong moved to New York where he could play a pivotal role in the arts scene throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Wong's work of that period captures the vibrancy of the Lower East Side: a resilient, multi-ethnic, bohemian community grappling with an advanced process of gentrification. Diagnosed with HIV in 1994, Wong returned to San Francisco where he lived under the care of his parents until he died in 1999.
Martin Wong: Human Instamatic offers a comprehensive overview of Martin Wong's career through a number of scholarly essays, archival material, and an interview with Wong made accessible to the public for the first time.