Announcing the Martin Wong Catalogue Raisonné

Press release
November 17, 2022David Jordan

Martin Wong surrounded by framed artwork standing and holding a hat

The Cantor Art Center’s Asian American Art Initiative (AAAI)—a series of long-term installations, special exhibitions, research, and education projects that operate in tandem with the museum’s ever-expanding collection of works by Asian American and Asian diaspora artists—has launched the Martin Wong Catalogue Raisonné (MWCR) in collaboration with Stanford Libraries and the Martin Wong Foundation (MWF).

The MWCR is a free online resource featuring the paintings, drawings, poetry, and ceramics of artist Martin Wong (1946–99). In addition to detailed records of over 800 works of art, the project includes a comprehensive illustrated chronology, a wealth of primary source material including newly published interviews, a 1991 audio recording of Wong speaking about his work, and a film portrait from the last decade of his life by Charlie Ahearn. New featured essays by curators and art historians reflect on various aspects of Wong’s four-decade career and contextualize his artistic output not only in terms of its local resonances and contribution to the creation of Asian American modernism, but to its place in a global art history.

Hand-painted frame, painted self portrait of Martin Wong
Untitled (Self-portrait), c. 1974-75

Though often seen as an outsider whose work defies easy categorization due to its realist style, quirky iconography, and obscure references to cosmologies drawn from Asian art, Wong is today recognized as a key figure and documentarian of New York’s Lower East Side and San Francisco—the city where he grew up and died. The scope of the MWCR thus spans from works dated 1959, when Wong was thirteen and began exhibiting his art, to a painting that he was in the process of completing when he died at the age of 53 due to complications related to AIDS.

MWCR co-editor Mark Dean Johnson notes, "Interest in Martin Wong continues to grow, as evidenced by the focused session at Stanford's IMU UR2 conference where the Martin Wong Catalogue Raisonné was premiered, as well as the concurrent publication of Solomon Adler's essay in Artforum and the simultaneous opening in Madrid of Wong's first European retrospective that will then travel to London, Berlin, and Amsterdam."

Martin Wong surrounded by framed artwork, standing with a hat in his hand
Martin Wong, Eureka, CA, ca. 1975

More than 800 artworks are reproduced in the MWCR and are available in high-resolution, zoomable formats, which required photographing many of them anew and reproducing never-before-published scans from archival materials held by the Martin Wong Foundation. This was meticulously organized by Anneliis Beadnell, co-editor of the MWCR and archivist to the estate of Martin Wong at P·P·O·W, a contemporary art gallery in New York City. P·P·O·W began exhibiting Wong’s artwork in the early ’90s and continues to be the primary gallery representing his works today.

“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,” writes D. Vanessa Kam, co-editor of MWCR and electronic resources librarian at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. The resources include an introduction explaining the development of the project, a research guide, and a video on the functionality, navigation, and contents of the MWCR.

Chinatown dragon with two children
Chinatown Dragon, 1993

While the MWCR is a collaboration among Stanford Libraries, the AAAI, and the MWF, it represents the inaugural research project of the AAAI and furthers the mission of its founders, Marci Kwon, assistant professor of Art & Art History at Stanford and Aleesa Pitchamarn Alexander, associate curator at the Cantor Arts Center. "As a free online resource, the Martin Wong Catalogue Raisonné embodies the AAAI's core values, including a commitment to accessibility, community collaboration, and sustained, in-depth engagement with artists as a rejoinder to the tokenizing visibility politics that characterizes so much contemporary discourse about artists of color," Kwon said. The Martin Wong Foundation was founded in 2003 by Florence Wong Fie (the artist’s mother), family, and friends to provide scholarships for art students at selected universities and to secure the artist’s legacy.

Cathy Aster, MWCR project manager at Stanford Libraries, summarizes the extent of the partnerships: “A hallmark of Stanford Libraries is our deeply collaborative work, supported by staff with wide-ranging technical expertise. The MWCR is our most recent exemplar and the culmination of a three-year project with strong partnerships external to Stanford as well. Stanford Libraries staff worked with passionate art historians to bring Martin Wong’s work to light, including metadata and copyright experts, media preservation staff, art library staff, software developers from multiple teams, user experience designers, and operations support, alongside former staff and director sponsorship."

Martin Wong painting of a brick building with two open windows that reveal a bedroom
My Secret World, 1978-81

The Spotlight digital exhibition platform developed at Stanford Libraries is foundational to the Martin Wong Catalogue Raisonné. “While this project follows the basic format and ethos of a traditional printed catalogue raisonné, aiming to present the entire oeuvre of an artist, the online catalogue raisonné allows for this resource to be free and widely accessible, as well as multilayered and interconnected with hyperlinks, tags, audio, and video via Spotlight. It’s an exciting way to bring Martin Wong’s work to researchers everywhere, as well as a potential model for future scholarship on other artists,” says Lindsay King, head of the Bowes Art & Architecture Library at Stanford.

View the entire Martin Wong Catalogue Raisonné online Spotlight exhibit.