Once upon a time, before Banksy murals were making the covers of auction catalogues, what many today know as street art was viewed as urban blight. Martin Wong saw creativity ripe for collecting. A new exhibition brings together works from his trove and traces the evolution of the New York graffiti art movement. We tagged writer Nancy Lazarus to take a sneak peek.
Pictured above, an untitled 1984 work by Zephyr, a key figure in the transition of the writing movement from trains to canvas. The below portrait of artist and collector Martin Wong was taken in 1985 by Peter Bellamy. (All images courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York)
“Street art has become the biggest art movement the world has seen,” said Sandra Fabara, the graffiti artist known as Lady Pink. She was one of the few female artists involved in the street scene of Manhattan’s Lower East Side during the 1970s and 1980s. That’s where Martin Wong, an avid collector, befriended and mentored a group of fellow graffiti artists.
“He was passionate, not just a patron,” said Christopher Ellis, aka Daze, one of many members of the group who paid tribute to the late Wong on Monday at the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY), which today opened an exhibition of works from Wong’s pioneering collection. On view through August 24, “City as Canvas: Graffiti from the Martin Wong Collection” consists of nearly half of the 300 mixed media pieces that Wong donated to the museum in 1994, five years before he died of AIDS. Sean Corcoran, MCNY’s curator of prints and photographs, curated the show, and the artists helped to identify many of the pieces in the exhibition.