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Sweet Oblivion

A work made of acrylic on canvas.
Courtesy of the Estate of Martin Wong and P.P.O.W. Gallery, NY

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  • A work made of acrylic on canvas.

Date:

1983

Artist:

Martin Wong
American, 1946–1999

About this artwork

Martin Wong’s paintings combine painstaking documentary realism with highly charged symbols and decorative motifs. Wong moved from San Francisco to New York in 1978, joining a lively East Village scene filled with artists making political work inspired by their personal and cultural experiences. Illustrating a modern-day ruin in the epic scale of traditional history painting, Sweet Oblivion depicts a decaying tenement near the artist’s home and studio. Wong’s trademark hands in the upper left alight on the surface of a fiery, apocalyptic sky, reiterating the caption at the bottom of the composition in American Sign Language finger spelling. These delicately gilded characters—which pay homage to graffiti art, Persian script, and hieroglyphics—stand in stark contrast to the otherwise bleak scene.
Illustrating a modern-day ruin with the epic scale of traditional history painting, Sweet Oblivion depicts a decaying tenement near the artist’s home and studio in the Lower East Side neighborhood of Manhattan. The fortresslike buildings—made up of hundreds of minute, individually rendered bricks—are surrounded by a sea of refuse and rubble. Alighting on the surface of a fiery, apocalyptic sky, two groupings of Wong’s trademark hands reiterate the caption in American Sign Language finger spelling: “Sweet Oblivion, Clinton on the other side of Delancy Street.” Typical of Wong’s canvases, in which the harsh realities of urban life are offset with an uncommon optimism, the delicately gilded, stylized characters—which pay homage to graffiti art, Persian scripts, and hieroglyphics—appear here as emblems of beauty and hope in an otherwise bleak scene.

Status

On View, Gallery 293

Department

Contemporary Art

Artist

Martin Wong

Title

Sweet Oblivion

Place

United States (Object made in)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.

Made 1983

Medium

Acrylic on canvas

Dimensions

213.4 × 274.3 cm (84 × 108 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Society for Contemporary Art

Reference Number

2012.485

Copyright

Courtesy of the Estate of Martin Wong and P.P.O.W. Gallery, NY

Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email . Information about image downloads and licensing is available here.

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