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Director’s Lecture Series 2016–2017, Lecture 5: Martin Wong’s Liberty Mourning the Death of Her Sister—Beijing, 1989

By Dr. Joe Lin-Hill, Deputy Director

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

6:30 pm - 8 pm EDT

Martin Wong (American, 1946–1999). Liberty Mourning the Death of Her Sister—Beijing, 1989. Acrylic on canvas, 72 inches (182.9 cm) diameter. Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; George B. and Jenny R. Mathews Fund, 2014 (2014:24). Copyright of the Estate of Martin Wong, 1989.

5:30–6:30 pm, Reception
6:30–7:30 pm, Lecture
7:30–8 pm, Questions & Conversation

$85 general admission 
$65 for Members (FREE for Members at the Andy Warhol Circle and higher)
$35 for students (with valid student ID)
Series Tickets and Scholarships


Martin Wong arrived on New York’s Lower East Side in 1978. Over the next 15 years, his gritty, realist visions would come to represent this dynamic neighborhood more as an extended portrait series than as the cityscapes they appear to be. The people and incidents Wong portrayed, and the architectural settings that play leading roles in his work, are central to the local milieu that gave rise to Jean-Michel Basquiat, David Wojnarowicz, Keith Haring, and many others whose work defines the period. Wong’s work is definitive in a similar way; he documents a moment when gentrification began to displace the bodegas (corner stores), iglesias (churches catering to Spanish-speaking communities), gay bars, and drug dens that had given the neighborhood its character.

Wong is best known for his loving depictions of chained storefront facades and the brick walls of Lower East Side tenement buildings, although these buildings were often teeming with local life. Liberty Mourning the Death of Her Sister—Beijing features the tenement buildings and brickwork that are quintessential Wong, but the central allegorical character here is unusual. The figure depicted in Liberty Mourning grieves over the events of June 4, 1989, when the Chinese government suppressed the student democracy movement in Tiananmen Square. The ‘sister’ referred to in Wong’s title is the ‘Goddess of Democracy’ statue that students of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing erected in Tiananmen Square. That statue faced off against the giant portrait of Chairman Mao that hangs on the so-called Gate of Heavenly Peace. Although this work was made in 1989 it is a very recent acquisition of the Albright-Knox, and this will be the first opportunity to hear about its importance in the context of the museum’s collection and art of the period.

About the 2016-2017 Director's Lecture Series

This year’s Director’s Lecture Series presents the story of six timely—and timeless—works of art that help define the continuing greatness of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. The series is designed by Peggy Pierce Elfvin Director Dr. Janne Sirén and presented by Dr. Sirén, Deputy Director Dr. Joe Lin-Hill, and Senior Curator Dr. Cathleen Chaffee. Learn More and View Series Schedule

Program Sponsors

The Director's Lecture Series is made possible, in part, through the generous support of HSBC Bank USA, N.A. Additional support has been provided by WSF Industries, Inc.