From SF to NYC, He Was the ‘Human Instamatic’

'Brainwashing Cult Cons Top TV Stars,' Martin Wong, 1981.

'Brainwashing Cult Cons Top TV Stars,' Martin Wong, 1981. (Bronx Museum of the Arts, gift of JP Morgan Chase)

In 2017, we’re all on Instagram, but in the late ’70s one man was known as the “Human Instamatic.” That was Martin Wong, whose posthumous exhibit Martin Wong: Human Instamatic is at BAMPFA through Dec. 10.

Wong grew up in Chinatown, and came of age in the Bay Area and Humboldt County. But when you look at his work after 1978, when he moved to New York, it’s incredible: he was living on the Lower East Side, hanging out with Puerto Rican motorcycle riders and early hip-hop graffiti writers, and his paintings capture the look and feeling of the gritty melting pot of the neighborhood.

They also provided an outlet for his sexuality — his depictions of firefighters, especially — and it was only when he was diagnosed with AIDS that he moved back to San Francisco. He died here in 1999, but this exhibit keeps his work alive. After a run in the Bronx last year, it’s in the Bay Area for the first time at BAMPFA in Berkeley. Details here.

From SF to NYC, He Was the ‘Human Instamatic’ 20 September,2017Gabe Meline

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Gabe Meline

Gabe Meline is KQED Arts’ Senior Editor. He lives with his wife, his daughter, a 1964 Volvo and too many records in his hometown of Santa Rosa, CA. Find him on Twitter at @gmeline.

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