Matthew Wong - 20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, July 2, 2020 | Phillips

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  • Summary

    “Mr. Wong made some of the most irresistible paintings I’ve ever encountered… [My first time seeing them] was deeply nourishing: my life had been improved and I know other people who have had the same reaction. Such relatively unalloyed pleasure is almost as essential as food” – Roberta Smith, The New York Times

  • Reinventing Modernism

    Matthew Wong’s refulgent paintings are prisms of art history. From Chinese literati painting to the expressive brushwork of Vincent van Gogh and Chaim Soutine, the Nabis and Henri Matisse’s fervor for color to the gestural approach of the Abstract Expressionists, numerous influences are palpable in his vibrant vignettes. An enigmatic, psychologically-charged depiction of a space of the artist’s imagination, Mood Room   is a superb example from the brief yet profound body of work Wong executed before his untimely death last year.

    [right] André Derain, Mountains at Collioure, 1905. Artwork © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

    A self-taught artist, it wasn’t until 2012 that Wong first began to experiment with drawing. “At first I just bought a cheap sketch pad along with a bottle of ink,” Wong said, “and made a mess every day in my bathroom randomly pouring ink onto pages — smashing them together — hoping something interesting was going to come out of it.”[i] The artist’s mother recalled that “he would go to libraries and study all the masters—Picasso, van Gogh, Matisse,”[ii] and participated in Facebook communities of artists who introduced him to new techniques and ideas. Among these online friends included painters Peter Shear and Brian Calvin, and prominent art dealer John Cheim even counseled Wong on which oil paint to try.

    Wong began his paintings with no predetermined subject in mind, instead starting with brushstrokes and dots until an image appeared to him, usually in the form of a landscape or interior scene, as in Mood Room. At this point, Wong stated, “the image will eventually paint itself.”[iii] The resulting image usually includes one or no figures, and instead inanimate objects become animate: the chair in Mood Room is depicted with as much presence as a human subject would hold. Perhaps this pictorial decision comes from his background in photography, in which Wong received his MFA before shifting to painting.

    The ambiguous presence Wong’s objects carry, as well as the myriad patterns that adorn his spaces, also evoke the interiors of modernism. On one hand, Mood Room’s lonely interior alludes to the multitude of designs that furnish both Jonas Wood and Pierre Bonnard’s rooms. 

      “These paintings are extremely open and vulnerable. But once they lure you in, they leave you alone to explore their chromatic, spatial and psychological complexities” – Roberta Smith, The New York Times
    Vincent van Gogh, The Bedroom at Arles, 1889. Musée d’Orsay, Paris, Photo: Hervé Lewandowski © RMN-Grand-Palais / Art Resource, NY  

    There is also a more conceptual connection to history, however; both windows in Mood Room and Matisse’s highly-decorated The Dessert: Harmony in Red, 1908, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, appear simultaneously as frames for paintings. The windows both look out onto brilliant outdoor scenes composed of flat areas of color and dots, evoking both actual trees and pointillist paintings—thus hinting at a “picture within a picture.”  In this sense, Wong has placed past and present in dialogue in Mood Room, reimagining the modernist approach for the contemporary era.

    Henri Matisse, The Dessert: Harmony in Red, 1908. Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Artwork © 2020 Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York             
  • Collector's Digest

    Wong’s two exhibitions at KARMA, New York, in 2018 and 2019, were met with widespread critical acclaim and garnered rave reviews in publications such as The New York Times,    The New Yorker, and ArtforumThe Dallas Museum of Art; Aishti Foundation, Beirut; and the Estée Lauder Collection, New York already own paintings by the artist who only painted in earnest for six years before his premature death.

    “The reaction to his work and exhibition is something that we hadn’t experienced before with a young artist or a first show…It was quite astounding. And the reaction was the same from critics, colleagues and collectors… The highest levels of collectors were immediately interested” – Brendan Dugan, KARMA 
    Matthew Wong, The West, 2017. Dallas Museum of Art, Image courtesy Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Art Fair Foundation Acquisition Fund, Artwork © 2020 Matthew Wong


    [i] Matthew Wong, quoted in Neil Genzlinger, “Matthew Wong, Painter on Cusp of Fame, Dies at 35,” The New York Times, October 21, 2019, online.
    [ii] Monita (Cheng) Wong, quoted in Neil Genzlinger, “Matthew Wong, Painter on Cusp of Fame, Dies at 35,” The New York Times, October 21, 2019, online.

    [iii] Matthew Wong, quoted in “Artist Profile: Matthew Wong,” Structure and Imagery, November 3, 2013, online

    • Provenance

      KARMA, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in April 2018

    • Artist Biography

      Matthew Wong

      Matthew Wong was a Canadian artist who enjoyed growing acclaim for his lush, dreamlike scenes that play on a rich tradition of art historical precedents. His work depicts the vivid but often melancholy terrain between sleep and wakefulness, lonely landscapes and isolated interiors rendered with a carefree hand and an ebullient palette, yet which contain an ineffable sorrow and a palpable but unnamed longing.  

      Wong spent his childhood between cultures: he was born in Toronto, Canada and at age 7 moved with his family to Hong Kong where he lived until he was 15, at which time the family returned to Canada. Wong began to experiment artistically already well into his adulthood, first with photography, which he pursued at the postgraduate level at the City University of Hong Kong, and then with painting. A self-taught painter, Wong developed his aptitude for the medium by immersing himself in online conversations with other artists and dedicated personal study of the history of art. His paintings attracted almost immediate attention, but Wong tragically passed away in 2019 just as his work was beginning to receive widespread critical praise.  

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Property from an Aspen Collector


Mood Room

signed, titled and dated “MOOD ROOM Wong 2018 [in Chinese]” on the reverse
oil on canvas
36 1/8 x 48 in. (91.8 x 121.9 cm)
Painted in 2018.

Full Cataloguing

$60,000 - 80,000 

Sold for $848,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 2 July 2020