Summer/Fall 2016
Hung Liu Studio Newsletter

Exhibitions, Meeting Meryl Streep,  Friends, Press, & Publications

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Welcome to the Hung Liu Studio newsletter for the summer/fall of 2016. Much has been happening since July. Rather than summarize here, we invite you to plunge ahead and enjoy this, the fourteenth newsletter published since March 2011. 



American Exodus
Nancy Hoffman Gallery, New York
September 8 - October 22, 2016 

Late in the Day,  Early in the Morning , oil on canvas, 60 x 156 inches, 2016

Hung Liu is primarily known as a painter of Chinese subjects, typically from the 19th and 20th centuries. Her new paintings, however, are based upon the Dustbowl and Depression era photographs of American documentary photographer Dorothea Lange, whom Liu has long admired. 
Angel Wing, oil on canvas, 60 x 48 inches, 2015
In fact, Liu was surprised to learn that her hometown mu seum - the Oakland Museum of California - was also the repository of Lange's photographic archive. It also turns out that 2015 was the 50th anniversary of Ms. Lange's death, and that 2016 is the 50th anniversary of the establishment of her archive.   Thus, since the fall of 2015, Liu has made regular research trips to the Lange Archive to select photographs from which to make paintings. 
As a painter, Liu challenges the documentary authority of photographs by subjecting them to the more reflective process of painting. Indeed, much of the meaning of her paintings comes from the way the washes and drips dissolve the photo-based images, suggesting the passage of memory into history, while working to uncover the cultural and personal narratives fixed - but often concealed - in the photographic instant. She has written: "I want to both preserve and destroy the image." Given the historical, often tragic subject matter she represents, her style is a kind of weeping realism. 
Shifting focus from the people in Chinese historical photographs to the migrants in the Depression-era photographs of Dorothea Lange may seem a surprise to Hung Liu's audience, at first. 
Migrant Mother , oil on canvas, 66 x 66 inches, 2015
But by training her attention on the displaced individuals and wandering families of the American Dustbowl (and beyond), Liu takes a second look at a society's photographic remnants, and what she finds in Lange's photographs are subjects whose overarching struggle and underlying humanity are not so different from the Chinese refugees, soldiers, prostitutes, and workers she has painted for decades.  In Liu's paintings, all are caught by the camera in an everlasting moment and then summoned, like ghosts, onto the waiting canvas, where they are painted in a mineral ground and washed in linseed oil. The meaningful distinction is that the subjects in Liu's new paintings are American peasants who, unlike their Chinese counterparts, may be stuck in poverty, but not in place. 

Chinese peasants are often scattered to the winds by the forces of history, while the Okies and Bindlestiffs in Lange's photographs, though desperately poor, tend to be on the move, or settled temporarily in migrant camps. They were scattered by the forces of nature. Their common goal was to get to California, the promised land. Within twenty years of Lange's photographs, mobility would become the great American metaphor. Though many of these migrants came to bitter ends, they most always came from somewhere else. 
Okie, oil on canvas, 60 x 72 inches, 2015
Trained in China as a Socialist Realist, Liu studied mural painting at the Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing before immigrating to the US to attend the University of California, San Diego. There, she was confronted not with  the exhortation that art should "serve the people heart and soul," but with the expectation that the artist should innovate and experiment.  Over the years, however, Socialist Realism has loosened its grip on Liu's painting, allowing drips of paint and washes of linseed oil to run down the cotton-duck weave, sometimes draining away images like gravity drains life,  or time blurs memory.  But more than anything, Liu's fluid style of realism is a deeply personal critique of the rigid Socialist Realism in which she was trained. Her great achievement as a painter has been to criticize the means of realist painting itself in order to arrive at a deeper sense of the subject's truth. In this, Dorothea Lange gets Liu closer than ever to the pathos of their now-shared subjects. For this first time, thirty years after leaving China, Hung Liu's weeping realism - like Lange's dusty documentary photographs - is fully American; social, but no longer socialist.

Old Black Joe, oil on canvas, 36 x 36 inches, 2016

Young Jesus, oil on canvas, 36 x 36 inches, 2016

Bindlestiff, oil on canvas, 80 x 120 inches, 2015

Not in Kansas, oil on canvas, 96 x 120 inches, 2016

Cotton Hoer, 1936, oil on canvas, 60 x 96 inches, 2016

Weedpatch, oil on canvas, 60 x 96 inches, 2015

Damaged Child, oil on canvas, 48 x 48 inches, 2016

Cotton Camp II, oil on canvas, 60 x 60 inches, 2015

Cotton Camp, 1936 , oil on canvas, 60 x 60 inches, 2015

Sharecropper, oil on canvas, 96 x 120 inches, 2015



Hung Liu: Daughter of China, Resident Alien
American University Museum, The Katzen Center, Washington D.C.
September 6 - October 23, 2016

C o-curated American University's Katzen Center for the Arts by eminent art historian Peter Selz and his collaborator Sue Kubly, "Hung Liu: Daughter of China, Resident Alien" is timed to coincide with the quadrennial frenzy of the national presidential election. As this long (and bizarre) campaign season reaches its climax, Liu has chosen to reflect upon two themes - refugees and heroines - that, while politically topical, are also deeply woven into her experience as a Chinese émigré, as an American citizen, and as a woman.
Resident Alien, oil on canvas, 1988

Born in Changchun, China, in 1948, a year before the creation of the People's Republic of China, Hung Liu lived in Maoist China and experienced the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. In fact, from 1968-1972 she was sent to work as a peasant in the countryside for "proletarian reeducation.""Daughters of China," a well-known propaganda film from 1949 that Liu remembers seeing as a child, depicts an actual 1938 event in which eight female soldiers fighting the Japanese staged a rear-guard action that allowed the Chinese army to escape. Cut off with their backs against a river, they were coaxed to surrender when the Japanese realized they were women. Rather than capitulate, however, the eight young soldiers-ranging in age from thirteen to twenty-eight-carried their dying and wounded into the river and drowned. While Liu's paintings of these heroines are not ironic, there is irony in the fact that in America she is able to paint them in a looser, post-academic style as a sincere expression of youthful patriotism. She believes not in the propaganda of the homeland, but in the courage of these women soldiers.
Having come from China to the US in 1984, after waiting four years to obtain a Chinese passport, Liu is keenly attuned to the liminal experience of never entirely leaving the homeland while never fully arriving in the new home. In "Jiu Jin Shan" (Old Gold Mountain), over two hundred thousand fortune cookies create a 
Chinese Trade Monopoly , oil on canvas, 1988
symbolic gold mountain that sits at the intersection of two crossing railroad tracks. The junction where the tracks meet serves as a visual metaphor of the cultural intersection of East and West as well as a terminus for the dreams of many Chinese immigrants who perished during the construction of the transcontinental railroad. In this work, Liu references not only the history of Chinese laborers who built the railroads, but also the specific history of San Francisco; the city was named Old Gold Mountain by the Chinese migrant workers in the nineteenth century as an expression of the hope of finding prosperity in the new world. The individual fortune cookies - an early 20th century American culinary gimmick that is not even Chinese in origin - become substitutes for gold nuggets, while a mountain of them serves the metaphorical roles of representing the allure of great wealth as well as the end of the line, since it echoes the traditional Chinese burial mounds of Liu's Manchurian relatives.

Cookie Queen, oil on shaped canvas, 1994
By combining "Daughters of China" and "Jiu Jin Shan," the Selz and Kubly examine themes of sacrifice,  memory, and history through works that navigate the complex and never-ending tension between emigration (with its emphasis on leaving one's homeland) and immigration (with its emphasis on arriving in a new place).  They also represent the epic journey of the artist herself, who is deeply rooted in Chinese history while realizing her aspirations as an artist in the ever-changing contexts of contemporary American (and global) experience.
The proximity in time and place of this exhibition to the US national election may be viewed as a commentary both on the politics of immigration and on the (heroic) possibility of a woman president - two themes interwoven in our current national debate. The realization of that possibility, if it happens, may create a revolutionary place in which a daughter of China and a naturalized American can finally be at home.

Installation shots by  Greg Staley

Daughters of China, 2007, DVD

Scales of History
Fresno Art Museum, Fresno, CA
September 23 - January 8, 2017


I n 1972 and '73, while attending Beijing Teacher's College, Hung Liu would slip away from the campus almost daily and - hiding a small paint box and brushes beneath her coat - walk throughout the local countryside seeking scenes of everyday Chinese life to paint on tiny canvases.While it was the Communist Party's policy that artists should idealize the hardscrabble lives of farmers, soldiers, and workers, Liu's intent was radically different: to paint not in the service of state ideology, but for the sheer pleasure of painting. She called the resulting works her "Secret Freedom" paintings (below).


This exhibition, "Hung Liu: Scales of History," curated for the Fresno Art Museum, contrasts the furtive, intimate scale of thirty-four of Liu's "Secret Freedom" paintings with eight larger, historically-charged canvases from different stages of her career since immigrating to America in 1984. Several of the larger, more recent paintings - all taken from historical photographs (as opposed to the plain air approach of the smaller paintings) - are below.

Modern Time, oil and revolutionary alarm clocks on canvas, 66 x 168 inches, 2005

Huang-Jun: Imperial Warriors , oil on canvas, 84 x 108 inches, 2001

Hua Gang (Flower Ridge) , oil and resin blocks on canvas, 66 x 132 inches, 2005

S-Wan Quan Lake: Red Detachment of Women,  oil on shaped canvas, 56 x 108 inches, 1995

Peeking Opera,  oil on canvas with brass cannon shell, 72 x 104 inches, 1989

The aim of this exhibition is to suggest that the big paintings came from the little ones, and this in spite of the profound differences between them: private vs public scale, painted from life vs painted from historical photographs, timeless landscapes nearly devoid of human figures vs moments of history overflowing with humanity. The thread connecting these very different times and societies is the personal experience of the artist. Thus, Hung Liu's freedom is no longer secret.

This exhibition celebrates the Fresno Art Museum's presentation to Liu of the annual " Distinguished  Woman Artist Award" for 2016. For nearly thirty years, this award has been given to outstanding artists, including Mildred Howard, Amalia Mesa-Bains, Ruth Asawa, Inez Storer, Jo Hanson, Claire Falkenstein, Rachel Rosenthal, Betye Saar, Viola Frey, Ruth  Weisberg, and June Wayne, among others.

Good company ...

Catalogue available.

Gail Severn Gallery, Ketchum, ID
June 27 - July 27, 2016
Hung Liu's recent paintings of dandelions are rendered from close-up photographs taken by the artist at various parks and monuments across the United States. The dandelions, fragile in nature, and blown and tattered by the lightest breeze, mimic how images, and personal histories can be scattered by time and the winds of consciousness. These new works are created with Master Printer David Salgado at Trillium Graphics in Brisbane, CA.



Gail Severn and the artist in Sun Valley, Idaho


Meeting Meryl Streep

On Friday, September 9th, after the previous night's opening for "American Exodus," Meryl Streep came into the gallery to meet Hung and see her show. The meeting was prearranged because Hung has been commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Museums to create a portrait of Ms. Streep. This first meeting between the artist and her living subject begins a process in which they will meet several times so Hung can determine how to paint a unique portrait of one of the world's more famous and recognizable women. Ms. Streep will come to Hung's Oakland studio later in the fall for a sitting. Stay tuned ...

First hug ...

A gift ...

... from Hung

With Nancy Hoffman Gallery crew, Dorthy Moss, and Meryl Streep

Studio Visits

With Julia Goodman and Michael Hall (newlyweds)

With Justin Collins, Stacey Garcia, & Nora Grant from the Museum of Art and History, UC Santa Cruz

With Trish & Rena Bransten
With Cathy Kimball and Patricia Carino, from the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art 

With Vera & Bill Lagatutta

With Karin Oen, Curator of Contemporary Art at the Asian Art Museum

Mills College graduate students

With Mary-Ann Millford and Joanne Moser

With Percilla Otani & Mike Yochum 

With Quinn Delany and Wayne Jordan

With Rebecca Lee & Tim Yaris

With Emily Sano & Gilson Riecken

Monica Lundy

With Rachelle Reichert (and cotton hoer)

Out and About

Robb Puttnam in Ketchum, Idaho

With Susan Swig & Gail Severn in Ketchum
With Barbie Reed at the Sun Valley Writers Conference

With childhood friend Chen Bing

With Jim Melchert

With Chris Brown and Squeak Carnwath

With Richard Shaw

With Wayne Thiebauld

With Chris Brown at his 65th birthday

Jeff with Susan Swig and Gail Severn in Ketchum

With Nancy Hoffman, George Ciscle, Rick Cleaver, & Jeff Kelley in Washington, DC

With Jack Rasmussen, Director of the American University Museum, the Katzen Center, Washington DC

With Helen Frederick

Jake Martinez & Walter Maciel in Oakland

With Sherry Xiao, summer intern at Hung Liu Studio

With Robin McDonnell

Surprised to see David Wild working with Don Farnsworth at Magnolia Editions in Oakland.

With Louise Bryson in Sun Valley

With Cissie Swig in Ketchum

With Lowery Sims

With Molissa Finley from Mills College

With Amy Parker of the National Portrait Gallery

Jeff with Rex Arrasmith in NYC

With Gilson Riecken and Emily Sano in NYC

With filmmaker Kristina Sorge in NYC

With Mills alumna group in NYC, including former president Jan Holmgren

With Bonnie Sherk, Chris Cobb, and Kathy Brew in NYC

With Stephanie Syjuco in Oakland

With Jessica Snow

With Peter Selz in Berkeley

With Dorothy Moss, of the National Portrait Gallery

With Yuko and Thomas Taylor in NYC

With Diego Rocha, studio assistant, in Washington D.C.

With Joan & Roger Mann in Ketchum, ID

Steuart Pittman @ Jeff & Hung's 30th in Oakland

With Nancy Hoffman & Mogu in NYC

30 years on ...

Recent Press for Hung Liu

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."

UCSD Visual Arts Department link:

Los Angeles Times 
"Her new paintings are portraits of the most humble of flowers - dandelions - and they are spectacular."
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.
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: 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   



Thank You!
Hung Liu Studio