As I was going to Dead Metaphor’s premiere in San Francisco, Lydia Tanji introduced me to Wylie Wong, an art dealer friend in the city who felt like a kindred spirit after an evening out. Wylie is also the subject of Lydia’s documentary in production about Chinese art and opera. The next day, Wylie invited me over to his house—filled with his own art collection—for tea.
Originally from Seattle, Wylie moved to San Francisco for art school. After graduating, he moved to Chinatown and saw someone throwing out old photos into a dumpster behind the now closed May Photo Studio. Wylie asked the guy about the photos and he said he could take them. The photos were pictures of old Chinese opera singers who had performed in Chinatown. Later, he also discovered another five hundred that the studio was going to throw away, bought them each for a dollar and began his career in art dealing and collecting.
“After college, I realized I had an eye for art but I wasn’t really an artist, even though I still paint,” said Wylie who offered some tea and fruit. “I’m particularly interested in traditional Chinese art like the brush strokes of Chinese paintings where you could see 400 years of mastery coming alive. I’m also very into figures In Chinese art… the sexiness of traditional Chinese art like the nude. I like sexy.”
Wylie continued to show me different art pieces from different eras in his house and I was like a kid in a curio store. I have never been personally too interested in Chinese art, but Wylie has definitely cultivated an immediate appreciation in me within the hour.
“Believe it or not, Zhang Da Qian now outsells Picasso,” he said pointing to his own Zhang Da Qian painting on the wall.
We ended the tour in Wylie’s room where he showed me a collection of what he coined “Chinese Ephemera,” basically poor people’s art objects that weren’t originally meant for collecting at the time they were produced. All over his walls was hung a beautiful collection of reverse painted mirrors from 1890s to 1920s in Shanghai brothels.
Before we left his apartment, he told me that Chinese art could be very erotic. He was just about to ship a few erotic paintings from the Ming dynasty to an auction house for appraisal. One painting depicted a man giving a woman oral sex.
Of course I had to see that.
Before we left the house for lunch, Wylie turned on the alarm in his house. I felt as if he were turning on the time machine to return us to 2013 San Francisco.