Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit the Bronx Museum of the Arts for the first time. I know I’ve said this before about other museums I’ve visited, but I think the Bronx Museum may become one of my favorite museums in the city! On this visit, I explored an incredible exhibition – Martin Wong: Human Instamatic. Chinese American painter Martin Wong (1946-1999) was born in Portland, Oregon, but spent his childhood in San Francisco. After moving to New York City in 1978, Wong spent much of the rest of his adult life living and painting in New York City, and his paintings reflect that influence.
The exhibition is truly magnificent, with more than 90 paintings and other materials that span Wong’s career as an artist. It’s clear from his works that the city, with its complexities, its grit, and its diversity, inspired him. I want to give a small sample of those paintings here, but, if you get the chance, you really should go see the entire exhibit yourself. I know I’ll be back before the exhibition ends on February 14, 2016.
This first painting comes from the first gallery in the exhibition, and was painted in the early years after Wong’s move to New York, while he was living in Meyer’s Hotel in lower Manhattan. It is titled “Tell My Troubles to the Eight Ball (Eureka),” dated 1978-1981.
This second painting, “The Flood,” 1984, has two elements that are repeated in many of Wong’s works: the detailed brickwork, so common in many old New York City tenement buildings, and the firemen. I find this particular painting striking because of the prominent hand of the Statue of Liberty, holding her torch high – but made of brick, like the tenements.
This next painting shows two other elements that Wong often used: American sign language and newspaper headlines about criminal cases. This painting is titled “Courtroom Shocker: Jimmy the Weasil Sings Like a Canary,” 1981.
And here’s one final painting from the Martin Wong exhibition, utilizing Chinatown as inspiration. It’s titled “Canal Street,” 1992. If you look closely, you will also see Wong’s small self-portrait in this work.
While I was at the museum, there was also another excellent exhibition, called (de)(re)construction. The exhibition includes a number of works from the museum’s permanent collection, but is only on exhibit through January 10, 2016. I’ll leave you with one photo of a work from the (de)(re)construction exhibit, Mary Heilmann’s “Monochromatic Chairs,” 2015. One reason why I love this particular work of art actually comes from the description of the piece, which includes this quote by Heilmann: “Museums are places to hang out.” And these chairs invite visitors to do just that!
To get to the Bronx Museum by subway, take the B or D trains to the 167th Street station. (The D does not stop at 167th Street at all times–double check the MTA website for more information.) You can also take the 4 train to the 161st Street/Yankee Stadium station, but the walk is a bit further. Keep an eye out for the painted murals at the corner of Grand Concourse and 166th Street. The black and white portrait is of DJ Kool Herc, commonly credited as the father of hip hop music in the Bronx in the 1970s. There are several colorful murals as well.