On November 12, New York gallery P.P.O.W announced the launch of the Martin Wong Catalogue Raisonné (MWCR)—a free online resource providing detailed records of more than 800 artworks of Chinese American artist Martin Wong (1946–1999), new essays by scholars and curators, an extensive illustrated chronology, and a range of primary source material. The project is a collaboration between Stanford Libraries, the Asian American Art Initiative (AAAI) of the Cantor Arts Center, and the Martin Wong Foundation (MWF).
Wong is known for his vivid depictions of urban life, especially those of New York’s Lower East Side and San Francisco throughout the late 1970s and ’80s. Born in Portland in 1946 and raised in San Francisco, Wong graduated with a degree in ceramics from Humboldt State University in 1968, and joined the avant-garde psychedelic theater group The Cockettes (later, The Angels of Light) in the late 1960s and early ’70s. After moving to New York in 1978, Wong started painting its residents and the cityscape in a realist style, featuring a series of symbols such as bricks, finger spellings, eyes, as well as subtle references to elements of Asian cosmologies. His works were exhibited for two decades at a number of downtown galleries including Exit Art, Semaphore, and P.P.O.W, before he died in 1999 at the age of 53 due to AIDS-related complications. To oversee and promote Wong’s legacy, MWF was established in 2003 by Wong’s mother Florence Wong Fie, family, and friends.
Covering Wong’s entire oeuvre, MWCR is widely accessible on the website of Stanford Libraries, with an image catalogue presenting works that range from acrylic paintings, portraits, ink-on-paper, sketches, still lifes, ceramics, to poetry and installation views of Wong’s exhibitions. Additionally, the hyperlinks, tags, audios, and videos on the platform allow the public to dive deeper into the artist’s life through different media sources.
D. Vanessa Kam, co-editor of MWCR and electronic resources librarian at Emily Carr University of Art and Design, writes in the introduction: “Our goal for this project was that the sum of all the elements of the MWCR would bring the work of Martin Wong to a broader audience, while providing sustenance to the viewers who already have reasons to revere this highly prolific, influential, and inimitable artist.”
MWCR is also the first research project of AAAI, which was initiated by Marci Kwon, assistant professor of art and art history at Stanford University, and Aleesa Pitchamarn Alexander, associate curator at Cantor Arts Center, with the goal to support and encourage the collection, exhibition, archive, research, and education of Asian American diaspora artists.