Extent: 4 boxes
The Martin Wong Papers collection consists of materials collected by artist and collector Martin Wong between 1980 and 1994. The bulk of the collection consists of graffiti-related publications and correspondence between Wong and graffiti artists in the 1980s and 1990s. These materials provide insight into the kinds of sources Wong was reading and drawing from, along with the people he was communicating with, as he became an active member of the graffiti community in New York City. Additional material types include photographs, photograph negatives, legal documents, event invitations and arrest records.
Martin Wong (1946-1999) was a native San Francisco artist whose style is referred to as poetic realism and often revolves around unconventional subject matters. Wong had been trained in ceramics and street performance and was an expert in calligraphy, decorative arts, American antiques, Chinatown souvenir pieces, and graffiti. His early works were influenced by Asian traditions and landscapes. Wong moved to New York City in the 1978, where he established his new home and art studio in a tenement building at 141 Ridge Street in the Lower East Side. He then became an active and influential artist, collector, and curator in the East Village art scene. Wong exhibited in several galleries in New York City during his lifetime and opened the Museum of American Graffiti on Bond Street in August of 1989. The institution was the premier graffiti museum in the United States and remained open for approximately six months. His work has been increasingly celebrated throughout the United States and abroad since the 2000s. Before leaving the East coast, the artists donated over 300 works and 55 black books (artist’s sketchbooks) to the Museum of the City of New York from a graffiti art collection that he had assembled through his encounters with local graffiti writers. The collection of works documented the roots of the graffiti movement in NYC and the evolution of writing styles up to the 1990s. In 1994, Wong returned to San Francisco, where he passed away five years later of AIDS-related causes at age 53 in his family residence.
Angel Ortiz (1967-present), also known Lil Angel, LA ROCK and LA2 is a prolific Puerto Rican graffiti artist based in the Lower East Side. Born in 1967, he grew up in the Baruch housing projects, located between Houston and East Delancey Street. He has worked on a variety of surfaces and his art began appearing on New York City walls during the 1980s. During this time, he met artist Keith Haring at a downtown ball court, which led to creative collaboration that heavily influenced Ortiz’s work. Together, they created the energetic and colorful aesthetic that is today associated with Keith Haring – Haring drew the characters and Ortiz’s LAII tag filled in the spaces in between, though Angel Ortiz’s contribution to this work is not widely known. Ortiz has exhibited worldwide since the 2000’s and his art can be found on skateboard designs, street wear, and still on Lower East Side walls.
Scope and Content
The Martin Wong Papers consist of materials about graffiti and related topics during the 1980s and 1990s, at a time when graffiti art began appearing in art galleries and the underground movement was proliferating and gaining prominence. The collection is the product of Wong’s interest and belief in the unique creative and visual qualities of graffiti art. The printed materials primarily include magazines and newspaper articles, but also books and exhibition catalogues. Particularly noteworthy is an original manuscript by Jesus Sterling titled “Kings and Toys: Graffiti From the Inside.” The manuscript includes a glossary for graffiti related terms, a historical style timeline of graffiti art, biographies of influential artists and writing crews and a terminology list for painting techniques. The papers also contains of 42 hand-written letters by Angel Ortiz to Martin Wong. These letters were sent by Ortiz, an influential graffiti artist who lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York from various correctional facilities between 1992 and 1995. The correspondence sheds light on the relationship between the Wong and Ortiz, but also documents Ortiz’s daily life while in prison.
Series I: Printed Publications (1983-1989)
Series II: Museum and Exhibition Publications (1991-1993)
Series III: Martin Wong Personal Material (1980-1994)
Series IV: Angel Ortiz Correspondence with Martin Wong (1992-1995)