MATTHEW WONG (1984-2019)
MATTHEW WONG (1984-2019)
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MATTHEW WONG (1984-2019)

Green Room

MATTHEW WONG (1984-2019)
Green Room
signed in Chinese, titled ‘GREEN ROOM’ and dated in Chinese (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
96 x 72 in. (243.8 x 182.9 cm.)
Painted in 2017.
Karma, New York
Private collection, Paris
Acquired from the above by the present owner

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Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis Head of Department

Lot Essay

During his short—but momentous—career, Matthew Wong changed the trajectory of contemporary painting. A vast window onto a mysterious world, at eight feet by six feet, Green Room is a wondrous, joyful standout in the artist’s career and one of few canvases of this monumental size. Born in Canada and raised in Hong Kong, Wong paintings are internationally acclaimed as for their color and dynamism. Roberta Smith, co-chief art critic of The New York Times, recalled, “[He] was one of the most talented painters of his generation…Mr. Wong made some of the most irresistible paintings I’ve ever encountered” (R. Smith, “A Final Rhapsody in Blue from Matthew Wong, The New York Times, December 24, 2019). Smith’s assessment is undeniable. Wong conjured scenes that are uncommonly lush and emotionally replete, surreal and familiar like a return to one’s home after a long journey. His celebrated work resides in renowned public collections like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Estée Lauder Collection, New York. Later this year, a retrospective will open at the Dallas Museum of Art.

Green Room is presided over by its namesake color, which Wong dots across the canvas and interweaves with white and light yellow. It is as if the air itself is a garden populated by weightless flora and enveloped in a curtain of leaves and berries. On the left of the scene is what appears to be a door with an envelope affixed to it, perhaps just an everyday reminder or something of dramatic import. Wong is above all a storyteller, using color and pattern alongside markers of domesticity to create lasting dramas and ballets of dancing hues. The room is populated by an orchid and fruits that are so immediate and beckoning that they have stories and lives of their own. Through the window is a charming landscape of oranges, blues, and greens that work in unexpected harmony, as with the distinctive pigments of the Impressionists. With multiple perspectives and vantagepoints existing simultaneously, Green Room expands upon the evocative play of flatness and depth of references as diverse as Yayoi Kusama's colorful fields of pattern and color, Matisse’s dreamy interiors, especially his The Dessert: Harmony in Red (1908), also called fittingly The Red Room, Vincent van Gogh’s poignant landscapes, and Pablo Picasso’s foundational collages and portraits. All these figures reside together in Wong’s “green room,” understood cheekily in the sense of a place of rest for performers.

Given the international interest in Wong’s paintings, it is important to also recall the Asian influences in his oeuvre, like Chinese landscapes of the Song Dynasty (960-1279), in addition to canonical European artists. Asian-American poet and critic John Yau unequivocally praised the work, “In his paintings, Wong has brought together distinct strands of Western and Eastern art and made them into something that is recognizably his. It is not about adapting to one culture or another, but about absorbing as much as he can until the source becomes less and less important to point out. That seems to me to be the future of painting” (J. Yau, “Matthew Wong’s Hallucinatory Pilgrimages,” Hyperallergic, April 22, 2018). Thus concerned with bridging divides, Wong himself suggested that his aim was connection and community through the mythical stuff of paint, “I really would like to think that anybody out there painting or drawing something at the moment is engaging in the same larger, perhaps infinitely vast conversation as I am about the craft” (M. Wong, quoted in M. Vogel, “Matthew Wong Reflects on the Melancholy of Life,” Art of Choice, November 15, 2018). His microcosms become shining points in a constellation from which all who look can draw inspiration.

A quintessential instance of Wong’s distillation of art history alongside a trailblazing style all his own developed at a young age, Green Room is wistful but equally content and jubilant. According to his mother, Wong would spend hours in the library as a young child studying the works of artists such Matisse, Van Gogh and Picasso. Matisse was a particular favorite, and within the canvas and the marks of the artist’s hand, the diversity of human emotion comes to the fore, gifting us a vision of peace, or to evoke Matisse once more, Luxe, Calme et Volupté. Green Room is intuitive and unafraid to shift among styles, subjects, and viewpoints. To grant that kind of freedom is an act of love that extends well beyond a single lifetime.

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