Blue view at the Art Gallery of Ontario

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Remember the humanity of Matthew Wong.

Easily lost in the rapacious commodification of his paintings by the art market and the media’s attempts to mythologize his life in stereotypical ways, Matthew Wong was a person. A brilliant creator, a troubled soul – yes – but also a son, a friend, a painter.

Wong’s four short years (born Toronto, 1984 – died Edmonton, 2019) as a shooting star in the spotlight of contemporary art receive their first museum retrospective during “Matthew Wong: blue view” at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto until April 18, 2022.

Wong’s story is perfect for snapshots for those who don’t look any further. The tormented self-taught artist – a modern day van Gogh – who, after receiving almost instant praise for his genius, cracks under the pressure, committing suicide.

Too easy.

An artist who has shared such a deep vulnerability through their work deserves more in return than categorization as a trope. So far, this is mostly what he has received.

The sensationalism surrounding his suicide created a market-feeding frenzy. His work has been speculated as if it was a hot tech stock. in October 2020, his painting Shangri-La (2017) sold at Christie’s for $ 4.5 million, more than four times above the asking price.

Wong has become the flavor of the week. Fresh meat for the 24 hour news cycle. A new target for the vampires in the market to find and return. Contemporary art dishonored itself after Wong’s death.

He ceased to be a person to become a product.

At the Art Gallery of Ontario, Matthew Wong returns to center stage. Sensitive. Developer. The heart and soul he put into his work is evident – there is no pre-sale estimate attached to it – the art, the artist and the viewer.

The artist

Matthew Wong was seven when his family emigrated to Hong Kong and returned to Toronto at the age of 15. The decision to return to Canada was in part influenced by Wong’s state of health. depression at a young age.

He learned to draw and paint on his own, experimenting with landscapes in his early thirties. The nickname “autodidact” belies his extensive training which included a degree in cultural anthropology from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and a master’s degree in photography from the School of Creative Media at Hong Kong City University. .

Recognition for his painting came quickly.

In 2015, the Hong Kong Visual Arts Center held the first solo exhibition of his art. The work gained attention online, which led to Wong’s inclusion in the Karma Gallery’s “Outside” exhibition in 2016 held in Amagansett, New York. In 2018, Karma organized the first solo exhibition of Wong’s work esteemed leader critic Jerry Saltz for calling it “one of New York’s most impressive solo debuts”.

The “New York Times” called him “one of the most talented painters of his generation.”

The artwork

Two attributes stand out among Wong’s work above all others: isolation and the color blue.

“His precise motivations regarding his interest in color were never expressed in writing, but the volume and scope of the works of art he produced over a period of two to three years – at the end of his career – clearly show that his interest in color was broad and relentless and inspired by a lyrical and poetic sensibility, ”Julian Cox, AGO’s deputy director and chief curator, told Forbes.com of Wong’s compulsion to explore the creative and expressive possibilities of blue.

Melancholy – “the blues” – a psychological factor in Wong’s interest in color, but Wong’s blues are the icy blues of the north. Wong’s cold blues reflected his homeland, Canada, just as Matisse’s blues reflected the warm sun of the French Riviera.

Sorry blue. Snow blue. Ice blue. Midnight blue. Dark blue. Edmonton on the blue plains.

Wong’s “Blue Series” (2017-2019) remain his flagship works.

While the artist’s in-depth inspection of blue came later in her career, her paintings expressed a sense of isolation that recurred throughout her career. In a 2018 interview, when asked about the melancholy tone of his art, he replied: “I believe there is a loneliness or melancholy inherent in much of contemporary life, and on a broader level I think my work speaks of this quality as well. be the reflection of my thoughts, my fascinations and my impulses.

His paintings regularly represent lonely figures, isolated houses, isolated flowers, trees without leaves.

Considering Wong’s paintings – their deeply personal nature, the blues, isolation, longing – to separate the knowledge of his life and his suicide turns out to be difficult. Yet it is an effort that must be made.

“It is a mistake to overlook the technical and aesthetic sophistication of his paintings, which are extraordinary for an artist who was largely self-sufficient in his learning and development,” explains Cox. “The bravery and skill evident in his handling of painting is one of the characteristics that prompted critics to refer to him as one of the most talented painters of his generation. Paintings must be seen in person to be properly appreciated; no reproduction can do them justice.

Thirty-two paintings – large oils on canvas – and nine works on paper – small watercolors – are on display in “Blue View” alongside Wong’s poems and photographs. The AGO acquired its first work from the artist in 2020, a painting titled The long way back (2014-15), donated by Monita and Raymond Wong in memory of their son.

Another easy mistake to make when thinking of Wong is comparing him too closely to van Gogh, an artist he had a deep respect for and responded to in his paintings. The similarities are evident in the manner and age of their deaths to their devotion to blue and yellow respectively.

“Yes, there are clear affinities between the two artists, but a more serious historical study of art is needed to see the nuances,” Cox said. “We need to see more of Wong’s work and have a more intimate understanding of his biography, interests and inspirations in order to move beyond superficial comparisons. One way they’re very different, for example, is their relationship to the technology of their respective eras. Another is their relationship with the art market and the art world of their time.

Wong enjoyed great admiration and success during his brief career; van Gogh, small in his.

“The circumstances of Wong’s death combined with what we know from his biography combine to create a tragic story, but Wong’s artistic journey is also very inspiring and indicates how talent and ambition have been remarkable drivers. in his life, ”Cox said.

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