Sweet oblivion: the urban landscape of Martin Wong

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The visionary paintings of Martin Wong, one of the unsung geniuses of New York's East Village art scene of the 1980s, are collected here and examined in depth for the first time. Entirely self-taught, Wong creates intricate compositions that combine gritty social documents, cosmic witticisms, and highly charged symbolic languages-customized manual alphabets for the deaf, street graffiti, Nuyorican poetry, hand-lettered signs, meticulously rendered brick facades, rearrangements of Zodiac signs-sometimes within a single painting.

The urban landscape of Loisaida, the Hispanic section of the Lower East Side where Wong lives, is the source of his imagery. Whatever the theme-the survival of a neighborhood besieged by drugs and crime, homoerotic fantasies of men in uniform, the multiplicity of meaning in language, the kitsch and ornamentation of Chinatown USA-Wong's work is visually startling and movingly autobiographical.

This mid-career survey of Wong's work accompanies an exhibition at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York and the University Galleries, University of Illinois, in Normal, which has been organized by Dan Cameron and Bary Blinderman. Their insightful essays and those contributed by Lydia Yee, Yasmin Ramirez, and Carlo McCormick connect Wong's oeuvre with popular culture, cultural heritage, and the history of painting.

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