America Is Hard to See

Solo en Inglès

This audio guide highlights selected works by artists in America Is Hard to See. Curators, scholars, and artists provide additional commentary.

530Martin Wong, Big Heat, 1988


Martin Wong (1946–1999), Big Heat, 1988, Acrylic on linen, 60 1/8 × 48 1/8 in. (152.7 × 122.2 cm), Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Purchase, with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee, 99.89 © Estate of Martin Wong; courtesy The Estate of Martin Wong and P.P.O.W. Gallery, New York, NY

NARRATOR: This 1988 painting by artist Martin Wong is called Big Heat. Andrew Castrucci was a friend of the artist. During the 1980s, he and Wong were both residents of the Lower East Side. 

ANDREW CASTRUCCI: I knew him as a character of the neighborhood. He used to walk around with this, the firemen's uniform, actually. So he was kind of very theatrical. Martin lived, I believe on Attorney Street in a tenement there and he did have an obsession and love for, for bricks. 

The tenements were beautiful to Martin, no matter how empty it was or, or so forth. It was like a Roman ruin or a Greek ruin or an Egyptian ruin, the pyramids. What Martin was part of, what I was part of, we were trying to hold on to. . .the whole tradition of what the Lower East Side was about. The diversity of it. . .It's very gentrified now and so forth. 

Artists are constantly redefining what beauty is. So I think this is just another perspective of redefining beauty—the kissing firemen. It certainly celebrates gay life, but it's also, I think, more abstract than that. It's just about human contacts, somehow. I mean it's part of the nature of the city is this beautiful chaos, somehow. And I really see this in this painting even though it's very calm and still.