Summer 2017
Hung Liu Studio Newsletter

American Dream, Summer Road Trip, Book Signing, 100th Anniversary in Beijing,  Press, & Publications

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Welcome to the summer edition of the Hung Liu Studio Newsletter. Covered here are the annual summer road trip, exhibitions along the way, a book-signing, Hung's trip to China for the 100th anniversary of the elite girls' boarding school she attended in the 1960s, and more. Enjoy the newsletter ...
American Dream
Turner Carroll Gallery
Santa Fe, NM
June 28 - August 20, 2017

Tobacco Sharecroppers (Red Bow), 2017, oil on canvas, 60 x 60

In June, Hung opened a solo exhibition at the Turner Carroll  Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Titled "American Dream," her works focused on the Dustbowl and Depression era migrants of the 1930s, whose poverty and humanity were depicted in the indelible, social realist photographs of one of America's most noted photographers, Dorothea Lange. 

In her paintings for the Turner Carroll Gallery, Liu - who is known for a fluid style in which drips and washes of linseed oil dissolve the photo-based images the way time erodes memory - has developed a kind of topographic realism in which the paint congeals around a webbing of colored lines, together enmeshed in a rich surface that belies the poverty of her subjects. Titled after one of her paintings, "American Dream" introduces works that portray both the vulnerability and the dignity of these 1930s migrants first photographed by Lange.

American Dream, 2016, oil on canvas, 72 x 60

South, 2017, oil on canvas, 60 x 48

Opening at the Turner Carrol Gallery
Santa Fe
July 6 7, 2017
Tonya Turner introduces the artist's gallery talk ...

With Author and Critic Lucy Lippard

With Karen Stone and Susan Schuler

With Dyanna Taylor and her brother Seth, Dorothea Lange's grandchildren 

With Amelia and Paul Beatty and family 

With Skyler McGee and her loving supportive husband

With Richard & Brigitte Davis

With Doug & Sarah Brown of Santa Fe & Albuquerque

With film-maker Dyanna Taylor (granddaughter of Dorothea Lange & Paul Taylor) of Santa Fe

With Adrienne Johns 

Santa Fe!

With Jeff, Jim McManus, Sara Wigh,  Elizabeth Pipkin (Jim's law partner) and her husband, Jim Alexander

Women Warriors: Portraits by Hung Liu
Kalamazoo Institute of Arts
August 5 - November 26, 2017
Curated by Tonya Turner

Female strength in the face of persecution is the thread running through 20 mixed-media, painted, and photographic works by Hung Liu, whose imagery shows the power and perseverance of Chinese women throughout history--from imperial concubines to warriors of the Red Army and survivors of the Cultural Revolution--like herself.

Photography holds a very personal significance for the artist. When her father was imprisoned by the Mao regime, her mother destroyed all family photographs showing him in order to protect the family from Communist officials. Liu was sent into the countryside at age 20 for 'reeducation' as a farm laborer, working every day for four years in the fields. It was there that she began secretly taking photographs with a friend's camera. Eventually, Liu came to the U.S., where she taught at Mills College and continued to build her career as an internationally respected artist. 
Hung Liu,  Village Photograph 8 (Her Village), archival digital print, 24 x 18, 1968

Liu's work often makes use of anonymous Chinese historical photographs, particularly those of women, children, refugees, and soldiers. Many are based on photographs of Chinese concubines and prostitutes she discovered in an old shop when she returned to China in 1990. Liu says "the majority of girls were sold by poor families. Girls were not as precious as boys; they could not carry on the family name."

In her paintings, Liu gives these girls the rich life they never had in reality, pointing out the irony that photography in China, originally used by the royal court, commodified these oppressed concubines but also gave them a place in history alongside the highest strata of society.She strives to give these anonymous women a new life, often starting paintings with gold or silver leaf as the base, adding symbols of rebirth, immortality, wisdom, and good fortune between layers of resin. The resulting images are amalgamations of beauty, history, and transformation.

Viewers may wonder about the meaning of the circles and drips in Hung Liu's paintings. The circle has several meanings, including immortality and infinity. A circle also functions as the period at the end of a Chinese sentence "rather than a dot." And in school in China, Hung's instructor would circle his favorite part of her work. She thinks of the drips as the blurring of memory, reinforcing our responsibility to remember the past clearly; every day is Memorial Day. 

- Tonya Turner

July Road Trip

Each summer Hung has a solo show either in Santa Fe, New Mexico (Turner Carroll Gallery) or Sun Valley, Idaho (Gail Severn Gallery). Typically, she and Jeff extend travel to and from these exhibitions into a road trip, taking three or four weeks to linger before returning, sometimes reluctantly, to Oakland. Here are pictures from this summer's road trip - from Oakland to Reno, across Nevada's Highway 50 (the "Loneliest Road in America), into Utah towards Moab, south and east to Durango, and finally to Santa Fe. Enjoy ...

Dinner with Sara Frantz and Bill Fox of the Art + Environment Program at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno

Austin, Nevada

Near Moab, and Along (and In) the Colorado River


At Dale and Donna Robertson's Cabin (8,700 ft) outside Durango, CO

Santa Fe
With Tonya Turner at Geronimo, Santa's Fe's best restaurant ...

Our land at the Galisteo Basin Preserve (about 15 miles from Santa Fe)

With Pat and Mary Foley

Talking politics and drinking wine

With Bay Area transplants Jamie Brunson and Walter Robinson

Two Pioneers

At Philmont Scout Ranch, Cimarron, New Mexico
At the St. James Hotel

The Tooth of Time, Philmont Boy Scout Ranch, Cimarron, New Mexico

There are scouts up there ...



Cemetery and destroyed church at Taos Pueblo

The Agnes Martin room at the Hardwood Museum of Art in Taos

I paint with my back to the world... I don't have any ideas myself. I have a vacant mind.

And of course Larry's Hats in Albuquerque

Hung's Tamarind Institute lithograph of Walter White's "Breaking Bad" hat, also from Larry's Hats ...

Special Event
Booksigning at the Rena Bransten Gallery
Dogpatch, San Francisco
July 22, 2017

As part of the San Francisco Art Book Fair, Hung and noted critic and artist Maria Porges conducted a public discussion of Hung's catalogue for her recent and highly successful solo exhibition at the Rena Bransten Gallery, "Promised Land." Maria was the essayist for the catalogue, and her insights are clear-minded and elegantly written. The catalogue is available through the gallery, which has represented Hung since 1991.

Maria Porges and Hung Liu

Looking Back 

100th Anniversary
Experimental High School Attached to Beijing Normal University
(formerly Girls Middle School Attached to Peking Normal University)
北京师范大学附属实验中学 (北京师范大学附属女子中学)
September 2, 2017

Hung Liu, second row, third from left, circa1965

Hung Liu has always cherished her experiences as a student at the "Girls Middle School Attached to Beijing Normal University." (The Chinese are famous for clunky bureaucratic names.) A girls' boarding school so elite that even Mao's daughters went there, the campus was/is about a mile west of the Forbidden City (Mao's daughters were picked up and dropped off everyday). Hung has often talked with fondness about dorm life, camaraderie among the girls, the passion of teachers, and of the sense that the Experimental High School was a gateway to a modern China as well as to the nation's classical, ancient past. 
Hung loved her teachers, especially Mrs. Xia Xiurong, who taught Chinese literature. Earning excellent grades, she also  loved the process of learning. 
Hung Liu, second from left, back row, with classmates, circa 1964
This sense of enthusiasm, however, was shattered in 1966 with the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. It was in Hung's own school that teenaged Red Guards first rebelled, replacing subjects like history, literature, the arts, and even the sciences with the practice of revolution.  Mao appealed to the youth of China to destroy anything (and anyone) corrupted by capitalism or tradition, and they did so with the zealous self-righteousness of impassioned teenagers. In August, 1966, campus Red Guard leader Song Binbin lead fellow students in the beating of the school's Principal, Bian Zhongyun, to death.  
Principal Bian
Song Binbin with Mao
Bian was the first teacher killed in the Cultural Revolution, and her slaying led to further killings of educators throughout China by the Red Guards. Hung was not at school that day, and, because of her family history (and personal disposition), she was neither a Party member nor a Red Guard, but she was shocked that so many of her classmates - girls receiving the best education in Beijing - could turn so quickly from a class of elite students to a mob of violent revolutionaries. 
Song Binbin's apology
Two weeks later, Song Binbin became famous throughout China when she was photographed pinning a red armband on Mao in front of one million people in Tiananmen Square. In 2014, Song Binbin, who earned a doctorate at MIT, apologized publicly for her role in killing Bian Zhongyun, describing her shame at having "not protected" the school's teachers as a source of "life long regret." She also returned for the 100th anniversary.

Hu ng recalls that between 1966 and 1968 no classes were offered - they practiced revolution instead.  In 1968, she was sent, as were so many others, to the countryside to undergo "proletarian re-education" as a peasant farmer, not returning to Beijing until 1972.  During the 70s, she studied to b ecome an art teacher at Beijing Normal University. For the next several years she taught art to middle school students. In 1979 she was admitted to the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing - the nation's best art academy. Finally, Hung came to the US where she studied at UCSD.  Still, one gets the sense that her enthusiasm for learning - her love of art, literature, and the sciences (she wanted to become a doctor before the Cultural Revolution) - was kindled in high school, a nd that she cherished her experience there, despite the murder of Principal  Bian. 

Hung Liu, sitting, second from left, at the Experimental High School, circa 1964

On September 3rd, this year, Hung returned to Beijing for the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the Experimental High School. Thus, nearly 50 years after she and her classmates were sent to the Chinese countryside, they cam e togethe r again to celebrate the centennial of their school. Perhaps most movingly, their literature teacher, Mrs.  Xia Xiurong, now in her 90s, attended the reunion. Her students were overcome with emotion at seeing her, especially Hung. Mrs. Xia told Hung (true story) that she had been her best student, whose written compositions were always memorable. Sometimes in life the yawning gap between the past and present collapses like an accordion, so that, as in this case, student and teacher are back together, if only for a moment. Despite the violence and madness of the late 60s in China,  Hung and her classmates were able to re-wire history in terms of their solidarity as a generation, their love of learning, and the selflessness and sacrifice of their teachers. Perhaps they are comforted by the knowledge that history - so coveted by the zealots of a revolutionary era - now belongs to the (once) young women who cherished learning over ideology.

At the reunion...


With a young student 

With math teacher Zhang Chuntiao

With Jiang Peiqi, the widow of Hung's history teacher, Liang Xikong, who hung himself in 1966 at the beginning of Cultural Revolution, and (left) Wang Zhichun, and Chen Bing (Hung's best friend). 

A tearful moment with Chinese literature teacher Xia Xiurong and Jia Mingyan (behind)

Presenting her a print by Hung signed by members of the class



Beijing Art World Visits 

   A rare blue sky day in Beijing ...

With Phil Tinari, director of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA)


With Yu Hong, one of China's great painters

With Li Songsong, who "paints on paint"

Songsong's studio kitty

With Sui Jianguo, China's greatest sculptor

With Qiu Zhijie, a daring conceptual meaning-maker and president of CAFA's Experimental Art College

With Zhang Xiaogang, renowned painter and quiet witness to the past


Square Cylinder 

" Had Liu stuck to her early training in Socialist Realist and not gotten an American education that permitted and encouraged free expression, the paintings we see here would not, stylistically speaking, have been possible. That the best of them significantly departs from their sources lends double meaning to the titled Promised Land, alluding to both the better life sought by the migrants Lange pictured, and to the stories career Liu achieved after arriving on these shores in 1984 with $20 and a suitcase" - David Roth

San Francisco Chronicle

"The Lange photographs have become so well-known that the people in Liu's paintings seem like old friends, their familiar features recaptured in  new portraits and images. It's as though the photographer and her work have been reborn. The Oakland Museum has the Lange archives, and Liu has spent much time there immersed in that work, 'and I talk with her all the time'." - Leah Garchik

San Francisco Chronicle

"It's an artistic risk to take a famous Dorothea Lange picture from the Great Depression and turn it into an oil on canvas. But in the translation, Jung Liu is able to bring unique empathy to Lange's Dust Bowl images, having spent four years working the fields during the Cultural Revolution in People's Republic of China" - Sam Whiting

Huffington Post

"Although some may interpret this work's focus on the American Dust Bowl migration a departure from previous work because the subjects are not Chinese, Liu insists that this new work is not a pivot, but a natural extension of her previous work." - Amy Pleasant

Fresno Bee

"One of the great things about her new Fresno exhibition is the way you can flit back and forth between her earlier days as a student - absorbing the furtive freshness and raw vitality of a rural Beijing - with some of her much more politically pointed works.  One of the biggest and most impressive, titled "Modern Time," is based on a banal photograph of a woman daydreaming in a conference room. On the wall behind her are four photographs that used to be found on the walls of schools and public buildings across China: the "four white guys" who helped birth the communist ideology. But Liu offers a subversive twist. She depicts Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin in the style of Van Gogh, giving a post-Impressionist hint of snark to the scene." - Donald Munroe

Read more here:

Read more here:

Huffington Post

"A recent visit to the Palm Springs Museum affirms for me that all artists are immigrants. If not in a literal sense then in a figurative sense, they are strangers to the society surrounding them. In the desert resort city, populated by celebrities in steel houses, the local museum is exceptional. At the moment, it has exhibits by both Ai Wei Wei, the Chinese dissident renowned the world over, as well as Hung Liu, a professor of painting from China who has become a citizen of America." - Frank H. Wu


Washington Post

"The centerpiece of that show, Hung Liu's "Daughter of China, Resident Alien," is a pile of some 200,000 fortune  cookies atop tracks that evoke the role of Chinese labor in building American railways. In a large painting based on the artist's green card, she takes the name "Cookie, Fortune." Many of Liu's paintings are derived from photos or propaganda-film stills and dissolve realism into abstraction to represent the evaporation of Marxist-Leninist China and her memories of it." - Mark Jenkins

UCSD Visual Arts Department link:

Los Angeles Times 
"Her new paintings are portraits of the most humble of flowers - dandelions - and they are spectacular." - Sharon Mizota
Kansas City Star
In "Summoning Ghosts" at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Chinese-born artist Hung Liu quite literally "summons ghosts,"  bringing  the dead and willfully forgotten into our view through large paintings based on 19th and 20th century photographs taken in China. - Neil Thrun
KQED Radio
Confined in China, Ai Weiwei Directs Alcatraz Exhibit from Afar (Hung Liu interviewed), Mina Kim, September 27, 2014.  "Painter Hung Liu is close friends with Ai. Liu grew up during China's Cultural Revolution under Mao Tse-Tung, and like Ai, China's politics and culture infuse her work. She is wary of political art becoming too didactic.  'When you have a strong political agenda, a strong message, you have to be careful if you want to use art form,' the painter says.  Liu says she plans to take a serious look at Ai's Alcatraz work, and hopes others will get past his superstar status and do the same.   'Ai Weiwei's super-famous. Some people call him God Ai -  Ai shen ,' Liu says. 'I think it's little too far.'  It's important for people to continue to think critically about Ai's work, Liu says - after all, people tried to make Mao a god, too." - Mina Kim
SF Chronicle
Many contemporary painters struggle to get history into their work without looking pretentious or ideologically motivated. But big events of the late 20th century weighed so heavily on the life of Oakland painter Hung Liu that she might have found it difficult to keep history out of her work. - Kenneth Baker

Square Cylinder

It's easy to marvel at how Liu's mix of abstraction and realism draw us into the past.  Yet virtuosity alone doesn't explain the emotional pull of her painting.  So I'll venture a theory: Since Liu works from photos, her painting process is analogous to the photochemical act of "fixing" an image in the darkroom from which pictures seemingly emerge out of nowhere. Liu performs a kind of psychic translation of that act, supplementing it with lived experience and an extraordinary level of empathy.  Result: she can paint from photos and literally "summon ghosts." - David Roth

KQED Radio
Hung Liu is good at summoning ghosts -- from memory and history. She's an Oakland artist born in China, and "Summoning Ghosts" is the title of a new retrospective of her work at the Oakland Museum of California. - Cy Musiker


Hung Liu is widely considered one of the most important Chinese artists working in America today. - Interview by Rachelle Reichert
Art Practical

The spare aesthetic of the exhibition currently on view at the Mills College Art Museum belies the fullness of the Bay Area artist and educator Hung Liu's major concern: history. - Ellen Tani
Art Practical
In February 1948, the artist Hung Liu was born in Changchun, in the far north of China. Only months later, the city was the site of a major siege by the People's Liberation Army. - Matthew Harrison Tedford
Contra Costa Times

She's internationally known for her dramatic paintings, which often layer historical images with scenes from her own life or those of everyday people who didn't make it into the history books. - Angela Hill

San Francisco Chronicle/SFgate

In the early 1970s, Hung Liu, who was being trained in the strict Social Realist style required of Chinese artists at the time, surreptitiously made small landscape paintings that contained no images of Chairman Mao, heroic soldiers or happy peasants. She hid them under her bed to dry. - Jesse Hamlin



Publications (Hot off the Press)

Hung Liu: Promised Land
Essay by Maria Porges
Rena Bransten Gallery/Hung Liu Studio, 2017
Catalogues available

Hung Liu: American Exodus
Introduction by Lori Fogarty
Essays by John Yau & Drew Johnson
Interview by Rachelle Reichert
Nancy Hoffman Gallery/Hung Liu Studio, 2016
Catalogues available

Hung Liu: Scales of History
Essay by Jeff Kelley
Fresno Art Museum/Hung Liu Studio, 2016
Catalogues available

Hung Liu: Daughter of China, Resident Alien
Essay by David Pagel; Conversation between Peter Selz & Jeff Kelley
American University Museum, Katzen Center, Washington DC/Hung Liu Studio, 2016
Catalogues available

(Warm off the Press)

Hung Liu: Questions from the Sky
Ed Hardy, Susan Krane
Hahrdymarks Press, 2015 

Chinese Contemporary Art
Wu Hung
Thames & Hudson

Qianshan: Grandfather's Mountain
Interview by Rachelle Reichert
Nancy Hoffman Gallery, 2013

Summoning Ghosts: The Art of Hung Liu
Essays by Wu Hung, Yiyun Li, Rene De Guzman, Karen Smith, Stephanie Hanor, Bill Berkson
216 pages,  Oakland Museum of California & The University of California Press   

Hung Liu: Great Granary
Essay & Interview by Wu Hung
Xin Beijing Art Gallery / Timezone 8 Press
Available through Hung Liu Studio


Thank You!
Hung Liu Studio