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Hung Liu


About the Artists:

Throughout history, exploitation of women has been customary in China. In the paranoid Mao Regime in which Hung Liu grew up, an individual’s rights were subordinated to the interests of the State, very like a continuation of the Emperor-ruled China of the past. These realities of history converge with Hung Liu’s personal history to make her art a haunting paradigm of women’s experience past and present.

Born in 1948, she was a high school senior when she, along with thousands of other educated Chinese citizens, was forcibly “re-educated” as part of the disastrous “Cultural Revolution.” Hung Liu was sent to pick rice in the countryside for 4 years. When she was allowed to return to Beijing, she earned a BFA degree in 1975 from the prestigious Central Academy of Fine Art. In 1984 she was permitted to emigrate and in 1986 she earned a MFA degree at UCLA San Diego. Since 1986 she has been on the faculty of Mills College, California, and presently Chairs the Department of Painting.

In China she had been ordered to paint “Tractor Art” (pure realism glorifying the Mao Regime and easily understood by the masses). She discovered and fell in love with old photographs, fading portraits of Emperors, their wives and concubines. These sad faces without hope have the same look as the faces of present day Chinese women toiling at hard labor. They contradict the Regime’s upbeat version of Chinese history. The Regime was not amused when she began inserting contradictory references into her painting. Yet, Hung’s personal experience confirmed to her the reality beneath the propaganda.

In her installations, paintings, and prints, images are overlaid with washes and drips. These are combined with photolithographs and chine collÄ*. Traditional Chinese symbols of birds, butterflies, fish, dragonflies etc. are drawn and co-mingled with the applied and printed images. Past and present, real and symbolic co-exist in her work. She brings these exive assets to probe thoughtfully her personal issues of being a woman, a Chinese immigrant and an artist.

Now married to Professor Jeff Kelley of the department of Philosophy at Berkeley, and with son, L.C., a student in Chinese History at Beijing, Hung Liu finds herself a reluctant self-exile. Last July at dinner in her studio with her fellow artist and exile, the poet Bei Dao (runner up for the Nobel prize last year) and Fred Wakeman, Dean of Far Eastern Studies at Berkeley and his Chinese wife, it was clear to me--the only non-Chinese speaker at the table--that despite all, China remains the touchstone of their world. It is this poignant ambivalence in her art that raises it to its highest levels.

Michael Berger


Born in Chang Chun, China, in 1948, Liu was sent to the countryside due to the "proletarian reeducation" for four years during the Cultural Revolution. After receiving a graduate degree and teaching at the Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing, she was accepted into the graduate program in visual arts at the University of California, San Diego. She waited four years for the Chinese government to issue her a passport, but finally arrived in the United States and received her M.F.A. in 1986.

Since 1990, Liu has taught in the Art Department at Mills College, Oakland, CA, where she is a full professor. Liu is represented in New York by the Nancy Hoffman Gallery, in Miami by the Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, and in San Francisco by the Rena Bransten Gallery.

Liu's notable solo exhibitions include, among others, Towards Peng-Lai, at the Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco, CA; Strange Fruit: New Paintings by Hung Liu, traveling exhibition, Arizona State University Art Museum, Tempe, Arizona, and the Boise Art Museum, Boise, Idaho; Where is Mao? 2000, The Art Center, Chulalongkom University, Bangkok, Thailand; and Hung Liu: A Survey, 1988-98, The College of Wooster Art Museum, Wooster, OH.

download HUNG_LIU.pdf

I turn old photographs into new paintings. The photographs I work from are usually of Chinese subjects from the 19th and 20th centuries, including images of young Chinese prostitutes posing for the camera, soldiers, famine and war refugees, child street acrobats, Qing Dynasty courtesans, and laborers, usually women. In these images I am looking for the mythic pose beneath the historical figure, the elemental human conditions of working, eating, fleeing, dying, and posing.

I also weave passages of traditional Chinese art into my paintings, hoping to stir up their surfaces with stylistic contrasts and awaken a deeper sense of the cultural memory underlying the spectacle of modern Chinese history.

As a painter, I want to preserve and destroy the image at the same time. The oil washes and drips that seep through my paintings contribute to this sense of loss while dissolving the historical authenticity of the photographs I paint from. The photographs are back and white; the color in the paintings comes out of my head. Color is a way of making contact with subjects that are fading into the gray tones of history. Painting from archival photographs, especially ones that are hard to see, allows me to both discern and imagine the historical and personal narratives fixed in the photographic instant.

Additional Information:

Associated News
Michael Berger Gallery is pleased to announce "Summoning Ghosts: the Art of Hung Liu" a career retrospective of Hung Liu at the Oakland Museum of California on March 16, 2013.
January 16, 2013
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Associated Exhibitions
Hung Liu: Sundown of the Last Dynasty
December 5, 2009 - April 3, 2010
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Art: East Meets West
September 5 - November 14, 2009
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Nozkowski: Prints & paintings
April 4 - August 15, 2009
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Philip Pearlstein: An Exhibition in Celebration of his 2007 History Makers Award
April 20 - June 30, 2007
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Hung Liu: Revolutionary Daughter
Women Of Color: a Painting Installation and Limited Edition Collector's Prints
September 12 - November 29, 2003
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