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  • "The figures, which disturb the landscape, can be read as surrogates for the artist working his way through the landscape of art; he is both embedded in the paint and having a dialog with it."
    —John Yau 

    Embodying Matthew Wong’s leitmotif of the solitary figure in a fantastical environment, The Reader, 2017 presents a seated figure absorbing a book under a tree in bloom reminiscent of Gustav Klimt’s The Park. Dominating two-thirds of the composition, the unified canopy of multifarious trunks reflects Wong’s engagement with both Western and Eastern art in its evocation of the mark-making Pointillism of Georges Seurat and Paul Signac, the impasto whips of Vincent van Gogh, and the hallucinatory optical power of Chinese lacquerware. Protruding from the canvas like glimmering pebble-sized gems in its brilliant hues, the thick and varied application of paint evinces the fullness of the lush canopy in its rich materiality while calling attention to Wong’s unreserved painterly handling. Oscillating between the real and imaginary, mind and matter, The Reader draws the viewer into the artist’s intimate mindscapes. 

     

    Gustav Klimt, The Park, 1910 or earlier. Museum of Modern Art, New York, Image: © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY

    Most closely associated to the art and life of Vincent van Gogh, Wong also shared the Post-Impressionist’s love of books. An avid reader with an expatriate background, Wong was deeply impressed by the work of multicultural poets including Mei-mei Berssenbrugge and Henri Cole, who, like Wong, resonated the “dislocatedness of the immigrant” in their work through “a childlike sense of the non-specificity and universality of place.”i Art historian Winnie Wong observes that while Wong oscillated between photography and painting in his artistic practice, “reading…was the constant” in his life.ii She has also noted that his depictions of readers, such as in the present work, could be viewed as self-portraits. In its double evocation between landscape and painting, reader and artist, The Reader epitomizes Wong’s celebrated painterly practice of using landscape to explore interior subjectivity.

     

    [left] Georges Seurat, Seated Figure, Study for “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande Jatte,” 1884-1885. Fogg Art Museum, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, Image: © Harvard Art Museums / Art Resource, NY [right] Milton Avery, The Reader in the Quarry, 1947. Image and Artwork: © 2021 Milton Avery Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    [left] Georges Seurat, Seated Figure, Study for “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande Jatte,” 1884-1885. Fogg Art Museum, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, Image: © Harvard Art Museums / Art Resource, NY [right] Milton Avery, The Reader in the Quarry, 1947. Image and Artwork: © 2021 Milton Avery Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    "I do believe that there is an inherent loneliness or melancholy to much of contemporary life, and on a broader level I feel my work speaks to this quality in addition to being a reflection of my thoughts, fascinations and impulses." 
    —Matthew Wong

    Embodying the alienating loneliness of modern life, the isolated reader in the park encapsulates the transcription of Wong’s secluding disposition under his painterly hand, on which he revealed during an interview in 2018: “Living a fairly reclusive life and finding the most stimulation and enjoyment from matters of the mind...it’s inevitable that the solitary nature of this pattern seeps into and informs my work.”iii In the present work, the book represents the portal through which the artist nurtured his creative mind and built his “little rhapsodies of the everyday.”iv This allusion is strikingly reflected in the canopy of the tree just above the figure, its austere rectangular form visually recalling a painted canvas supported by an easel. Showcasing a painting within a painting, The Reader invites us into a layered picture of Wong’s poetic, imaginary worlds, transforming the everyday into the fantastical.

     

     

    Winnie Wong, “Genius from Nowhere: Postcards from Matthew Wong,” in Postcards, exh. cat., Karma, New York, 2020, p. 8.
    ii Ibid., p. 9.
    iii Matthew Wong, quoted in Maria Vogel, “Matthew Wong Reflects on the Melancholy of Life, Art of Choice, November 15, 2018, online.
    iv “Goings On About Town: Matthew Wong,” The New Yorker, April 17, 2018.

    • Provenance

      KARMA, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Literature

      Matthew Wong, exh. cat., KARMA, New York, 2018, p. 58 (illustrated, p. 59)

    • 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 a New York Private Collection

5

The Reader

signed, titled and dated "THE READER 王 二零一七" on the reverse
oil on canvas
30 x 24 in. (76.2 x 61 cm)
Painted in 2017.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
$600,000 - 800,000 

Sold for $2,329,000

Contact Specialist

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

[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 23 June 2021