Hung Liu, Artist Who Mixed East and West, Dies at 73

Hung Liu, a Chinese-American artist whose work fused past and present, East and West, earning praise in her adopted country and censorship in her homeland, has died August 7 at his home in Oakland, California. She was 73 years old. .

The cause was pancreatic cancer, the Nancy Hoffman Gallery, which represents Ms. Liu in New York City, said in a statement.

His death came less than three weeks before the scheduled opening of a career inquiry, “Hung Liu: Portraits of Promised Lands,” at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington. She was the first Asian American woman to have a solo exhibition there.

“A five thousand year old culture on my back; the world of the late twentieth century in my face ”is how Ms. Liu described her arrival in the United States from China in 1984, when she was 36 years old. and already an accomplished painter. Her goal in America, she once said, was “to invent a way to allow me to practice as a Chinese artist outside of a Chinese culture.”

As she quickly learned, one of the issues with being a Chinese artist outside of China was the need to manage and counter cultural expectations. Its very name automatically evoked, for many Western viewers, associations with traditional but stereotypical “Eastern” art forms such as calligraphy and brush-and-ink painting. Moreover, at that time, before the arrival of the wave of globalist art in the 1990s, the art world in Europe and the United States had little awareness of the very existence of Chinese art. contemporary.

His work incorporated photographic images that combined the political and the personal. Many of these images represented forgotten figures in history: workers, immigrants, prisoners, prostitutes. In some cases, she has represented them surrounded by flowers. There were also portraits of her Chinese family, including that of her father, taken from a snapshot that she herself had taken during her visit to a labor camp.

His 1988 painting “Resident Alien”, which has become the most widely reproduced, is a wall representation of his Green Card. It includes a realistically rendered self portrait, but the identifying name on the card has been changed to “Cookie, Fortune” and the year of birth from 1948 to 1984, the year she immigrated.

Hung Liu was born on February 17, 1948 in Changchun, northeast China, during the revolutionary era. When she was a child, her father, a teacher, was jailed for her involvement in anti-Communist politics. During the Cultural Revolution, she herself was sent by the government to the countryside to work on farms for “re-education”. There, she secretly photographed and sketched the daily life of the village.

She also traveled to China, visiting historic sites and, using a pocket paint box, making copies, among other things, of wall paintings carved and painted by Buddhist monks from the 5th to the 14th centuries in the Dunhuang Caves, in the far west of Gansu. Province.

In the 1970s, she studied at Beijing Teachers College and the Central Academy of Fine Arts. In 1981, she obtained a graduate degree from the Central Academy of Fine Arts, where she specialized and taught mural painting.

Agitated by the style and subjects of officially sanctioned socialist realism, she repeatedly asked the Chinese government for a passport to travel to the United States. When the permission finally arrived in 1984, she flew to California and enrolled in the Master of Fine Arts program at the University of California at San Diego.

One of his teachers there was conceptual artist Allan Kaprow, who had a long knowledge of Asian art and viewed both art and culture as ductile categories. His presence ensured a welcoming environment for his goals.

After obtaining a residency at the Capp Street Project, an art space and an artist residency in San Francisco, in 1988, Ms. Liu settled permanently in the Bay Area. In 1990, she began a long teaching career at Mills College in Oakland. She retired in 2014.

Her first exhibition in the United States, in 1985, consisted of drawings she brought with her from Dunhuang murals, but the work she started producing in California was quite different.

Its political content became more emphatic following the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. In a multimedia installation from that year, “Trauma,” the cut-out silhouette of a woman in traditional Chinese dresses with her feet tied, floats on the wall above the body of a fallen student. The black silhouette of Mao Zedong’s face hangs on the wall between them. The ground below is splattered with blood-red paint.

In 1994, for the MH de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco, Ms. Liu made an installation commemorating Chinese immigrants who died during the construction of the western section of the transcontinental railroad. In the 2000s, she began to work extensively with non-Chinese sources, basing a series of paintings on documentary images of the Great Depression by American photographer Dorothea Lange. The scenes of the rural misery of Dust Bowl captured by Lange reminded her of those she had witnessed and recorded in drawings, as she lived among the poor in rural China.

Most of Ms. Liu’s paintings were done in a brush version of the realistic style in which she was trained. But, skeptical of any claim to the veracity of the portrayal of history, she regularly covered the surface of her paintings with linseed oil washes, which sent streams of transparent liquid running down the canvas. This formal effect has given rise to various interpretations: fuzzy memory, tears, reality as an illusion.

Ms. Liu has presented several institutional exhibitions in the United States, including the 2013 retrospective “Summoning the Ghosts: The Art of Hung Liu”, organized by the Oakland Museum of California and which has traveled nationwide. The exhibition “Hung Liu: Golden Gate” is currently on display at the De Young Museum. The National Portrait Gallery exhibition, which runs until May 30, 2022, is his first major exhibition on the East Coast.

In 2008, as China relaxed culturally, Ms. Liu was treated to a retrospective at the Xin Beijing Gallery. But a 2019 investigation scheduled for the UCCA Contemporary Art Center in Beijing was abruptly canceled by the Chinese government, even after it granted its request to remove pieces which, in light of protests in favor of democracy in Hong Kong, were considered inflammatory.

Ms. Liu is survived by her husband, critic and curator Jeff Kelley; one son, Lingchen Kelley; and a grandson.

In addition to her paintings, Ms. Liu has made a few permanent public works, including “Going Away, Coming Home,” a 160-foot-long mural installed at Oakland International Airport. It is made entirely of glass windows painted with images derived from a 12th-century Chinese paint roller: dozens of ethereal flying white cranes, traditional Chinese symbols of good fortune.

The image is one of the most poetic created by an artist who wrote, in “Ghosts / Seventy Portraits”, a collection of her work in 2020: “When I moved to the West, there was exactly one half. life, I carried my ghosts with me.The ghosts that I carry are a burden, but also a blessing.


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