Artist Martin Wong painted so many themes, he can be tough to pin down. He was also a poet, and his art often deals with language and text-as-image. He was a loner who used his time to produce canvases obsessively patterned with thousands of carefully rendered bricks, in painting after painting. He was a Latino Chinese American gay man who made works rooted in his personal identity, informed by experience garnered in the counterculture environments of San Francisco and New York of the 1960s to the 1990s.
Ignored by the mainstream for much of his life, Wong has been embraced by the art world since his death of AIDS-related causes in 1999. The most recent evidence of that newfound respect is a thorough retrospective, with works on loan from many of the major museums in the U.S., at the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. “Martin Wong: Human Instamatic” is on view through Dec. 10.
The painting “Reckless” (1991), part of a series at the BAMPFA show depicting incarcerated men and prison life, quotes Andrea Mantegna’s 15th century “Lamentation Over the Dead Christ.” Here, though, the figure is alone, the mourners in the original replaced by colorless, functional fixtures.
— Charles Desmarais
Martin Wong: Human Instamatic: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays. Through Dec. 10. $10-$12, free 18 and younger. UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, 2155 Center St., Berkeley. (510) 642-0808. www.bampfa.org
Martin Wong: California Years: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, Oct. 28-Nov. 25. Anglim Gilbert Gallery, 1275 Minnesota St., S.F. (415) 433-2710. http://anglimgilbertgallery.com