NYC Museum Debuts Historic Graffiti Collection


In early February the Museum of the City of New York will mount its first exhibition drawing on the vast collection of graffiti and street art from the 1970s and ’80s gathered by the late artist and collector Martin Wong, which he donated in its entirety to the institution in 1994. The show, titled “City as Canvas: Graffiti Art from the Martin Wong Collection” and slated to run February 4-August 24, will include works by legends including FUTURA 2000, RAMMELZEE, LADY PINK, Keith Haring (above), Lee Quiñones (below), and more, as well as photographs by renowned street art photographers, among them Charlie Ahearn and Martha Cooper.

Wong, who integrated the graffiti subculture while working at Pearl Paint on Canal Street after arriving in New York from San Francisco in 1978, amassed an unparalleled collection of sketchbooks, drawings, and paintings either through trades or acquisitions. He donated all of them to MCNY before his death from AIDS in 1999. The exhibition draws from the 55 “black books” and more than 300 paintings on all types of materials, from canvases and boards to paper and plywood that Wong donated to the museum. The exhibition will also feature a selection of Wong’s own paintings — which are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum, among others, and were the subject of a 1998 retrospective at the New Museum — including realist street scenes and portraits.

“Graffiti art is now widely admired, but many questioned its merits during the movement’s development in the 1970s. Martin Wong had the foresight to collect graffiti art and advocate for young ‘writers,’ just as New York City’s street art scene was on the cusp of gaining international prominence,” MCNY director Susan Henshaw Jones said in a statement. “Understanding the importance of graffiti as an urban statement, the City Museum embraced the opportunity to acquire Martin Wong’s collection, which included many works by artists living just blocks away. We’re thrilled to show this rare collection for the first time since Wong donated it 20 years ago.”

The exhibition, curated by MCNY’s curator of prints and photographs Sean Corcoran, will also be accompanied by a catalogue edited by Corcoran and critic Carlo McCormick.


— Benjamin Sutton (@bhsutton)

(Top image: Keith Haring, “Untitled,” 1982; Museum of the City of New York, gift of Martin Wong. © Keith Haring Foundation. Bottom image: Lee Quiñones, “Howard the Duck,” 1988. Museum of the City of New York, gift of Martin Wong.)