Martin Wong: Painting Is Forbidden, an exhibition by CCA Curatorial Practice Class of 2015

As Seen on T.V. – It’s Fun to Shop and Save 1981. Acrylic on canvas. 36 x 48 inches . Courtesy of the Estate of Martin Wong and P.P.O.W Gallery, New York
As Seen on T.V. – It’s Fun to Shop and Save 1981. Acrylic on canvas. 36 x 48 inches. Courtesy of the Estate of Martin Wong and P.P.O.W Gallery, New York

Martin Wong: Painting is Forbidden

March 13 —

April 18, 2015

Curated by the Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice at California College of the Arts


Chinese-American artist Martin Wong (b. 1946) is best known for the paintings he produced while living in New York City in the 1970s and 1980s, where he was involved in the dynamic subcultures of the Nuyorican poets and graffiti artists. But it was in San Francisco, where he grew up, and in Eureka, California, where he studied, that Wong established himself as a prolific poet and ceramicist, a psychedelic painter, an artistic collaborator in the radical communal theater of the Angels of Light, and a self-described “Human Instamatic.”  These various influences and interests are reflected in the eclectic body of work he developed in an intense 30-year period of production, before his premature death in 1999 from AIDS-related illness.

Painting Is Forbidden seeks to develop a fuller picture of Wong and his wild and expansive body of work by presenting over 150 works by the artist, spanning all aspects of his artistic production and encompassing writing, calligraphy, drawing, ceramics, ephemera, theatrical set design, painting, and collage. Also presented for the first time are Wong’s sketchbooks and journals, his private archive, offering an inside look into his approach to his art and his life.

The exhibition’s title is taken from the following passage in his journals in which Wong reflects on the activity of painting:

“Painting is forbidden. The joys and pleasures of being a painter are almost identical to those of being a serial killer: the solitary quest, the thrill of the hunt, the compulsion of trying to complete an imaginary set, to live totally in the imagination, the suspense, the urgency, and finally the uncontrollable spasms…”

Martin Wong: Painting Is Forbidden is organized by the 2015 class of the Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice at California College of the Arts, with the support of the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts. Special thanks to the Martin Wong Foundation, The Estate of Martin Wong at P.P.O.W. Gallery, The Fales Library & Special Collections at New York University, and the Angels of Light.

Location: CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, 360 Kansas Street (between 16th and 17th Streets), San Francisco
Opening reception: Friday, March 13, 2015, 6:30–8:30 p.m.
Gallery hours: Tues.–Fri., noon–7 p.m.; Sat., noon–5 p.m.; closed Sun. and Mon.
Cost: Free
Information: 415.355.9673,,


  • Curator Cosmin Costinas will give a public talk about the artist exploring Martin Wong’s life and work. Costinas is acquainted with Wong’s art as part of Para Site in Hong Kong, where, alongside the M+ Museum, and in collaboration with the curatorial project called A Future Museum for China, he curated in 2014 an exhibition titled Taiping Tianguo, A History of Possible Encounters: Ai Weiwei, Frog King Kwok, Tehching Hsieh, and Martin Wong in New York. The talk will take place at the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts on Saturday, March 28, at 3 p.m.
  • A séance and poetry reading will be held at the Wattis Institute on April 18 at 7 p.m. to summon Martin Wong’s poems and writings. Rather than honor the memory of the artist in a conventional way, this public event will enliven Wong’s practice through direct experience of the artist’s words.

About CCA’s Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice
Founded in 2003, CCA’s Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice offers an expanded perspective on curating contemporary art and culture. Alongside traditional forms of exhibition making, this two-year master’s degree program emphasizes the momentous impact over the last half-century of artist-led initiatives, public art projects, site-specific commissions, and other experimental endeavors that take place beyond the confines of established venues. It is distinguished by an international, interdisciplinary perspective, and it reflects San Francisco’s unique location and cultural history by placing a particular importance on the study of curatorial and artistic practices in Asia and Latin America. For more information, visit

About California College of the Arts
Founded in 1907, California College of the Arts (CCA) offers 22 undergraduate and 13 graduate programs in the areas of fine arts, architecture, design, and writing. The college offers BFA, BA, MFA, MA, MBA, BArch, MArch, and MAAD degrees. For more information about CCA, visit


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