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Connecticut school sells dorm painting for $1.1 million

 Martin Wong's Persuit (El Que Gane Pierde - He Who Wins Looses).jpg
Hindman LLC
Martin Wong's 1984 painting "Persuit (El Que Gane Pierde - He Who Wins Looses)" recently sold at auction for $1.1 million.

A painting that hung in the dormitory of a private school in Connecticut for decades recently sold at auction for over $1 million.

For more than 30 years, Martin Wong’s “Persuit” (pronounced “pursuit” - Wong purposely misspelled words in the title of his works) adorned the common room in Rumsey Hall School’s Cutler Cottage. The 1984 painting, which depicts an urban cityscape at night, has now made the private school in Washington, Connecticut, $900,000 richer. It fetched a whopping $1.1 million at auction, a record for a Wong painting.

In a statement, Rumsey Hall School said that in August 2020, someone on staff discovered that works by Wong were fetching high prices at auction. The painting was removed from the dormitory for boys and carefully shipped to Hindman Auctions in Chicago.

“It was in perfect condition,” said Zach Wirsum, senior specialist for postwar and contemporary art at Hindman. “It’s just remarkable that it spent 30-some-odd years with adolescent boys and that nothing happened to this thing. It’s amazing that the children were able to recognize the importance of this piece, and as such, left it alone and even revered it.”

Martin Wong was part of New York’s Lower East Side arts scene in the 1980s. Until recently, Wirsum said, Wong was considered an “artist’s artist” with not much market value. Now the openly gay Chinese American artist is finally getting his due, 22 years after dying of AIDS. Wirsum said to fully appreciate Wong’s craft, you have to see it in person.

“A picture does not do it justice, because there is so much detail and buildup,” said Wirsum. “He was trained as a ceramicist, and the way that he has constructed the paintings is more sculpture than painterly. And the way he has constructed and built up the surface really speaks to a kind of relief, and there is a quality that definitely has that.”

Persuit (El Que Gane Pierde - He Who Wins Looses)_detail 3.jpg
Hindman LLC
A closer look at Wong's "Persuit (El Que Gane Pierde - He Who Wins Looses)."

Wirsum said the market for works by Wong has been steadily rising. Still, he was surprised by the final auction bid for “Persuit.”

“The previous auction record was around $800,000, and we thought it would do that and maybe a little bit better, but having it break that million-dollar mark was amazing,” he said. “I think moving forward it should definitely set a new benchmark.”

Persuit (El Que Gane Pierde - He Who Wins Looses)_detail 5.jpg
Hindman LLC
Another look at Martin Wong's "Persuit (El Que Gane Pierde - He Who Wins Looses)."

In a statement, Ian Craig, Rumsey Hall’s head of school, said proceeds of the auction sale will benefit Rumsey Hall School’s “whole-child approach to education.

Ray Hardman is Connecticut Public’s Arts and Culture Reporter. He is the host of CPTV’s Emmy-nominated original series “Where Art Thou?” Listeners to Connecticut Public Radio may know Ray as the local voice of “Morning Edition”, and later of “All Things Considered.”
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