BY Marko Gluhaich in Opinion | 23 FEB 24

Editor’s Picks: Rediscovering Martin Wong’s Playful Vignettes

Other highlights include the culinary cinema of Frederick Wiseman and Bei Dao’s poetics on life in exile

BY Marko Gluhaich in Opinion | 23 FEB 24

Frieze Editor’s Picks is a fortnightly column in which a frieze editor shares their recommendations for what to watch, read and listen to.

Martin Wong, Footprints, Poems, and Leaves and Das Puke Book

We have to thank Primary Information for publishing facsimiles of these two wonders. Made before Wong moved to New York and established himself as the city’s iconic painter of brownstones, Footprints and Das Puke Book presaged the subject matter that would populate the artist’s canvases.

Martin Wong, Footprints, Poems, and Leaves, 2024. Courtesy: Primary Information
Martin Wong, Footprints, Poems, and Leaves, 2024. Courtesy: Primary Information

Das Puke Book contains weird-o vignettes of the type that could be found in fellow San Franciscan Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America (1967), but with the playful, filthy abjection of Jean Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers (1943) – all written with an early version of the vigorous script that would define his paintings.

Frederick Wiseman’s Menus-Plaisirs – Les-Troisgros

Nonagenarian Wiseman apparently chose his latest subject after dining at the legendary Roanne restaurant while working on an entirely different film. The director’s sensibility is perfectly suited to tell the story of a fine dining behemoth as essentially a family drama. It’s a delightful four hours that I plan to return to as I would a favourite restaurant. From the opening sequence with chef Michel and his two adult sons César and Léo at the local farmer’s market, through lunch and dinner services and the occasional visit to local cheese and wine suppliers, the film gives breathing room to the many actors who operate the longstanding institution. But it’s the banal, intimate moments that remind us of the care and craftsmanship that connect the artist and his subject.

Fredrick Wiseman, Menus Plaisirs, 2024
Frederick Wiseman, Menus-Plaisirs – Les-Troisgros, 2024, films still. Courtesy: the artist

In one scene, Michel is presented with a dish flavoured with Sriracha sauce. Immediately, he announces it’s too spicy for his patrons, but then, we watch over the course of the slowly unfolding scene the chef nevertheless slowly savour the little treat. 

Bei Dao, Sidetracks

Dao’s first book in 15 years is also his first book-length poem. The poet, who publishes under a pseudonym, found himself stateless after the Tiananmen Square massacre, due to his prominence as an anti-Maoist democracy advocate; lines from his poems were found on protestors’ posters. Sidetracks comes after Dao’s return to China, specifically Hong Kong, where he has been living and teaching since 2007.

Bei Dao, Sidetracks, book cover
Bei Dao, Sidetracks, 2024, book cover. Courtesy: New Directions

The book, though, outlines his years of exile through the beautiful montage style that has come to define his remarkable work. ‘my identity suspect’, he writes in part IX, ‘exile is crossing the void of a journey without a destination – my life // intoxicated – tram gently rocks through the centre of Vienna’. Jeffrey Yang’s great translation will be published by New Directions in May, and should be one of the main literary events of the year.

Main image: Frederick Wiseman, Menus-Plaisirs – Les-Troisgros, 2024, films still. Courtesy: the artist

Marko Gluhaich is associate editor of frieze. He lives in New York, USA.