Winter 2021
Hung Liu Studio Newsletter
Exhibitions, A Long Year, & A Flattened World

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Welcome to the Winter 2021 edition of the Hung Liu Studio Newsletter (#24). Please enjoy looking through it! Also, check out Hung's website.

The Year 2020
The in-person dimension of practicing art has collapsed into a network of webinars and on-line events, from interviews to studio visits to lectures. No more traveling to openings or panel discussions, no more welcoming students to the studio. Digital sidebars are now the equivalents of gossip or whispers in a crowd. 

Still, one's art world (not "the" art world, because who knows?) is still social, just disembodied. Like most encounters today, it's better than nothing; maybe it's good enough for now. Staying home or in the studio is not always a matter of captivity, especially when you're older - anyway, we have a sense of where our friends may be at a given moment. We could reach out to them beyond the screen, but mostly we opt to hang back, not wanting to interrupt or be interrupted. Museums, galleries, art fairs, art criticism, artists and artworks are all lodged in the internet now (do we still call it the internet?). Fair enough. 

This is the 24th Hung Liu Studio Newsletter, which began in 2011. It was supposed to be quarterly, but good lord ... It has typically drawn from exhibitions, travel, publications, friends, glimpses of new art in the studio. Cats. Life still jitters along, but it's flatter than before. Representing an artist-on-line feels more like public relations and "content." Again, fair enough. Just bear in mind that the reach is a little farther now, and that you who read this newsletter have always constituted a meaningful audience. It's edifying for the artist and her propaganda minister too. In the end it's not only public relations, but archival. Something to look back upon. Twenty-four editions later there is really something to see.

Perhaps, soon, the pandemic itself will flatten out and the newsletter will draw upon more expanded dimensions of real life. Until then ...



Hung Liu: The Sun Also Rises 
Rena Bransten Gallery
San Francisco
September 17 - November 25, 2020

Lick the Sun, 2020, oil on canvas, 60 x 60

In recent years Hung Liu has made paintings based on Dorothea Lang's photographs from the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s. With her new works, which she calls "ensemble paintings," people and objects are extracted from Lange's photographs and digitally printed on shaped plywood and aluminum cutouts that are then reordered into new compositions, yielding fresh narratives of the lives, belongings, and shelters of these displaced people. Certain ensembles include a photographic print on aluminum of a Lange cloudscape, adding to the notion of free floating in a tentative space - like clouds themselves, or an expression on a face, or an instant - an analog of the photographic moment. 

Lange's photographs aimed to bring a heightened humanity to the masses of individual Americans struggling to survive the economic and agricultural crises of the time. Liu's affinity for investigating humanity and her deep kinship with Lange and the subjects of her photographs is palpable in this work. While the uncertainty of the present moment feels, at times, utterly lonely, there is solace in communing with the past and in seeing ourselves in the broad scope of history. Liu has long held a commitment to this communion, and her work is marked by an underlying current of hope and an enduring belief in the resilience of the human spirit.  

Homeless Puppies with Boy, 2020, Oil and UV acrylic on aluminum and canvas, 70 x 65 

Hung's Zoom "opening"

Making a pre-Zoom video


Cotton Carrier with Hat, 2020, Oil and UV acrylic on aluminum, wood, and canvas, 80 x 88

Hand to Mouth 2, 2020, Oil and UV acrylic on aluminum and canvas, 80 x 80

Homeless Cat with Girl, 2020, Oil and UV acrylic on aluminum and canvas, 72 x 60

Hand to Brow2020, Oil and UV acrylic on aluminum and canvas, 82 x 82

Homeless Cat with Boy, 2020, Oil and UV acrylic on aluminum and canvas, 78 x 70

Kern County, California, 2019, Oil on canvas, 82 x 120

With Trish Bransten

Hung Liu 2020 Summer
Gail Severn Gallery
Ketchum, ID
July 2 - July 31st, 2020

Every other summer, Hung Liu shows at the Gail Severn Gallery, in Ketchum, Idaho. She has for years. This summer, of course, the virus intervened. Gail still mounted a show of new work, but the artist was unable to travel there. Which was disheartening, since Gail's is among the classiest galleries around. Still, there WAS a show, and we believe it looked great. See for yourself...

Honey, 2020, Oil and UV acrylic on aluminum, wood, and canvas, 84 x 84

Sun Up, Sun Down, 2020, Oil and UV acrylic on aluminum, wood, and canvas, 66 x 120

Spare Tires, 2020, Oil and UV acrylic on aluminum and canvas, 80 x 85

Valentine's Day, 2019, oil on canvas, 80 x 80

Migrant Child: With Bunny, 2017, oil on canvas, 48 x 48


Top row: The Grapes of Wrath 4, 2019, oil on canvas, 20 x 20 / The Grapes of Wrath 3, 2019, oil on canvas, 20 x 20
Bottom row: The Grapes of Wrath 2, 2019, oil on canvas, 20 x 20  /  The Grapes of Wrath 1, 2019, oil on canvas, 20 x 20

Hung Liu: Seedlings
Sherry Leedy Gallery
Kansas City, MO
June 6 - August 11, 2020

The title of Hung Liu's exhibition of editioned works on paper, "Seedlings," has a double reference, both to young plants and to children. Comprised of twenty archival pigment prints and hand-leafed monoprints, "Seedlings" features images from the artist's paintings that are layered on paper surfaces with gold- and silver-leaf. Kansas City is one of the artist's favorite places to exhibit work over the years.



From Prayers to Urns
Nancy Hoffman Gallery (Group Show)
New York, NY
November 5, 2020 - January 2, 2021

Death and Life, 2020, Oil on Canvas, 80 x 80

Prayer: Death and Life (after G. Klimt)

Forty years ago, I was studying and making art on the floors in front of the Buddhist murals at the Dunhuang Caves along China's old Silk Road. Forty years later, I am painting after those same Dunhuang images on big canvases in my studio. The prayer is the same, for myself, for the human race, in all places and all times. There are never too many prayers in the world.

Rat Year Portrait 2020: Counting Down

With my face covered, my visage is also concealed. We shelter-in-place, and we ourselves are confined.
Prisoners mark the passage of time on their walls: One mark, two marks, three, and then a fourth, followed by a diagonal slash to bind them up.

The Chinese character 正 is also five equal strokes.

I embody two ways of counting the same days by five; counting and counting
until we are through.

Rat Year Portrait 2020: The Last Dandelion

One dandelion seed left on home base. The migratory seed can fly away at any moment. It will take its chance. A seed is a promise and a hope, even during the worst of times; of an orange sky, a killing wind, fields of flame, a plague in the air.

I wait for the seed to drift away.

Burned: Women and Fire
Turner Carroll Gallery (Group Show)
Santa Fe, NM
April 4 - April 30, 2020

Garden Scene, 2003, oil on canvas, 60 x 60

Hung participated in a show called Burned: Women and Fire, at Turner Carroll Gallery in April, 2020, curated by Tonya Turner. Her work joins the more than 20 pieces by Judy Chicago, Etsuko Ichikawa, Jami Porter Lara, Lien Troung, Monica Lundy, Meridel Rubenstein, and Karen Yank in an aesthetically wide-ranging exhibition that takes fire as both a medium and a metaphor. Curated by Tonya Turner. 


A Year



Good Riddance 2020 


Upcoming Exhibitions

1Hung is currently working on an installation for the Wilsey Court of the De Young Museum that is intended to open in June of 2021. Stay tuned.

2The National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian has organized and will exhibit "Portraits of Promised Lands," a survey of Hung's portrait-based works made in China and the US between the late 1960s and the present. Opening in October 2021. Stay tuned.

3The Jordan SchnitzeMuseum at the University of Oregon in Eugene is organizing a large survey of Hung's Trillium - that is, her resin and ink - paintings. Opening likely in May 2021. Stay tuned.


Cas Kelley 
July 2 2020




"Though they have never met, Lundy and Truong both earned graduate degrees from Mills College in California, where they studied with the acclaimed painter Hung Liu. Tonya Turner, of Turner Carroll, calls the inclusion of all three artists in Burned a coincidence, but says that by exhibiting them together, she's showing "this school of Hung Liu that is about social justice and activism for women." - Jennifer Levin

KC Studio

"Liu's inspiration for "Seedlings" was Dorothea Lange's iconic black and white photographs of poor families forced to migrate across America during the Great Depression, in wrenching survival mode as they looked for work and a place to live. Dandelions, with their windborne florets, are another of Liu's references to the kind of epic, forced diasporas that not only affected many Chinese people such as herself, but that also changed the existence of so many Americans. Brilliant as Lange's photographs are, they are undeniably bleak; Liu's prints burst with variegated color and suggest outcomes that are more hopeful." - Elisabeth Kirsch 

The New York Times

"A prominent arts center in Beijing has canceled a Chinese-American artist's exhibition of works with strong social and historical themes, planned for December, after the local authorities declined to issue the necessary import permits. The cancellation comes amid a growing clampdown on civil society across the country and rising tensions between China and the United States." -Amy Qin

The San Francisco Chronicle 

"The show, which was to be on view at the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, was to feature a cross section of Hung's paintings, which involve taking common historical photos and turning them into paintings with a cultural context. The images are drawn from both Chinese and American sources, including noted photographer and San Franciscan Dorothea Lange. They tend to feature people on the bottom rung - prostitutes, refugees, laborers and prisoners." - Sam Whiting


"Among the nine works that the censors took issue with were a self-portrait of the artist carrying a rifle when China's Cultural Revolution ended and a work featuring twelve schoolgirls wearing gas masks, which was based on a historic photograph taken of a school drill during World War II. Liu had originally agreed to remove the artworks from the exhibition, but the authorities ultimately decided to refuse the permits for the remaining pieces."

The Art Newspaper

"Although Chinese authorities have not specified why they have denied an import permit, Liu believes there may be more reasons than the trade war between China and the US. "I don't think the cancellation is based on nationality at all, unless it has something to do with me being an American citizen who grew up in revolutionary China," she says. "My work has always been about human struggle in epic times. There are lots of exhibitions in China, often by foreigners, in which the art is more experimental and in many ways more daring than mine, so I can only guess that, perhaps because of who I am, there is too much history in my work." - Lisa Movius

Art News

"With relations between China and the United States growing strained, the art scenes of both countries have been directly impacted. This week, the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing-which is widely regarded as one of the most important contemporary art museums in China-was forced to call off a planned exhibition of work by Hung Liu, who had been due to have a solo show opening in December" - Tessa Solomon


"The city of Beijing has canceled a survey of the work of 71-year-old Chinese-American artist Hung Liu, which was scheduled to open at the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art on December 6 and run through March 2020. The news that the Beijing government has declined to approve the show comes as China ramps up its censorship of the arts in recent months." - Taylor Dafoe


"Liu [...] has shown works in Beijing and Shanghai before, including works that were going to be included in her UCCA show. The artist was born in China and was sent to complete manual labor in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution. She moved to the United States in 1984. She will be the subject of a retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. in 2021." - Christy Kuesel 

Los Angeles Times

"In her new work, from 2015 to the present, (Hung) Liu draws upon the photographs of Dorothea Lange (1895-1965). This marks a significant change of subject matter and sourcing for Liu, since Lange is American. It also fundamentally alters the nature of the work." - Leah Ollman

San Francisco Chronicle
"Hung Liu, who's had shows all over the country and spoke at the Minnesota Street Project on Saturday, about 'Women Who Transformed Art in the West,' had been the center of attention the night before at the opening of 'All Over the Map,' a show at the Sanchez Art Center in Pacifica. In these works, curated by Phil Linhares and created with David Salgado at Trillium Press, the artist combines fragments of paintings with photos and historical materials, and embeds them in layers of translucent material, on top of which she paints. It's a complex art form, the results seeming old and new at once." - Leah Garchik
Square Cylinder 
"As the public reckons with the necessity of supporting and defending women against male aggression, there is a dizzying prescience in these emotionally gripping images of armed women pushed to the very limits of their endurance." - Nick Stone

"It would be hard to imagine an art exhibition more relevant to current events, or one more visually and emotionally stirring, than Daughters of China, the stunning show of monumental oil paintings by East Bay-based artist Hung Liu." -Marcia Tanner

"Liu chose the cookies to represent the gold that drew the immigrants to the West Coast. 'That is also a metaphor of coming to America to seek your fortune, but there is a twist and it's important to know. The twist is the Chinese did not invent fortune cookies,' Kelley said." - Michelle Vendegna
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

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 and Warm off the Press)

Hung Liu - Ghosts: Seventy Portraits                  Hot off the Press!
Edited by Bart Schneider
Kelly's Cove Press

Zoetrope: All Story
Frances Ford Coppola's Literary Magazine
Winter 17/18, Volume 21


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

(Cool 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

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