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Wong, Martin (1946-1999)  
 
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Wong specifically references the attempted rape of the beautiful young Cupcake by the drug addict Paco, but he makes a number of changes from Piñero's play. For instance, Wong moves the scene from the showers to the more neutral setting of a corridor outside a prison cell, where Cupcake is less vulnerable. Although excerpts from Piñero's text on the background wall emphasize the brutality of this incident, Wong transforms this violent scene into a transcendent spiritual encounter through his handling of the figures.

Following the imagery traditionally used in Catholic altarpieces of the Annunciation, Wong shows Paco bending down with one knee on the ground, as he raises an arm in salutation to Cupcake. In the play, Cupcake emphatically rejects Paco, but Wong shows Cupcake with an ambiguous, rather puzzled expression on his face as he turns toward Paco. Thus, Wong leaves open the possibility that Cupcake may accept Paco's offer of love.

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The reference to the Annunciation is emphasized by the large bouquet of roses, drawn on the walls at the upper right. These traditional symbols of the Virgin Mary also may have been intended in part as an allusion to Our Lady of the Flowers (1942), one of most famous books by Jean Genet, who fused Catholicism and homoeroticism in his fictionalized accounts of prison life.

Genet had cult status in the queer art circles that Wong frequented in New York. Wong's friend, David Wojnarowicz, also paid tribute to the French author in his Untitled (Genet), a Xeroxed collage of 1979; a half-length haloed Genet stands in the foreground of what appears to be a bombed out cathedral, which is filled with human and angelic figures and which features a large altarpiece of Christ "shooting up."

From the mid-1980s to the early 1990s, Wong created other paintings that were inspired by Piñero's vivid oral accounts of his experiences in jail. These include Penitentiary Fox (1988) and Sacred Shroud of Pepe Turcel(1990).

In addition, during this period, Wong created many other paintings celebrating queer sexuality that do not directly reference Piñero's accounts. For instance, the provocatively titled Big Heat (1988) relates to his long-held fascination with firemen. This painting depicts two ruggedly handsome, Latino firemen, passionately kissing before a burnt-out brick tenement building in the background.

As no fire-fighting equipment is visible, it seems possible that these "firemen" are simply two queer men who enjoy dressing in uniforms, as Wong did. Indicative of the intense queer sexual energy of this image is the fact that a large reproduction of it was featured in the 1994 Halloween poster of The Saint, a popular gay club in the Lower East Side.

Gemini (1988) shows two Latino men dressed in fire-fighting apparel standing with their arms intertwined; the title references not only the couple but also the constellation visible in the sky. Wong may have intended the circular shape to recall tondo pictures, used in the Italian Renaissance to celebrate marriage. The arrangement of simplified, cubic buildings resembles cityscapes in fifteenth-century Italian paintings. Moreover, the ornate frame designed by Wong closely corresponds with Renaissance examples.

Paintings of Chinatown

Part of the Storefront series, Harry Chong Laundry (1984) is the only one of these paintings to depict a Chinese-American business. Distinguishing Harry Chong Laundry from most of Wong's work of the 1980s are the bright colors and bold forms, which provide a premonition of the distinctive style of his Chinatown paintings of the 1990s.

Canal Street (1992) is exceptional among Wong's Chinatown paintings of the 1990s because it accurately reproduces a New York setting of that decade. Wong presents side-by-side, duplicate views of the Golden Empire Jewelry Center, a New York landmark located at the corner of Canal and Center Streets. Wong also shows two versions of the adjacent telephone booth, streetlight, and subway entrance.

At a quick glance, the two exteriors seem identical, but more careful scrutiny reveals significant gender differences in the figures visible through the windows. In the left building, six elaborately coiffed women in elegant, silk cocktail dresses press themselves up against the windows of the third floor. In the right building, the only figure visible is a man wearing a business suit, who stands stiffly behind one of the doors on the ground floor.

On a broad band, extending across the top of Canal Street, large gold-bordered letters and characters identify the building in English and Chinese. Displayed in the midst of these inscriptions is a gold-framed portrait of the artist, who smiles broadly at the viewer. Although his head is turned in the direction of the building on the left, his eyes are focused to the right. Wong has portrayed himself dressed in the quintessentially American garments that he often wore: bright cowboy shirt and tall Stetson hat. Located midway between two differently gendered versions of a stereotypically Asian structure in America's largest city, Wong is ideally situated to construct a distinctive identity, composed of diverse cultural and sexual elements.

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