New York

Martin Wong, Everything Must Go, 1983, acrylic on canvas, 48 × 60".

Martin Wong

Bronx Museum of the Arts

Martin Wong, Everything Must Go, 1983, acrylic on canvas, 48 × 60".

DECADES AGO, well before Martin Wong had a gallery—let alone the fame that has only gathered momentum since his passing in 1999—he hung some paintings in an inexpensive little Japanese restaurant on St. Marks Place in New York. There were a few neighbors who disliked them and said so, but it’s safe to assume that most people never even noticed them: These were paintings of brick walls, hanging on brick walls. To those of us who were actually paying attention, they seemed like some ultrabanal trompe l’oeil, or perhaps a reminder of the horrifyingly cheap patchwork jobs the local slumlords specialized in; there was nothing of the picturesque in them, nor did they even contain those flourishes of self-expression we typically endure in café art. These paintings seemed illegitimate, too prosaic for the East Village, that legendary zone of difference where normalcy was

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