National Museum of Women in the Arts
Hung Liu
February 17 1948 - present
Photograph of Hung Liu, courtesy of the artist
Place of Birth:
American, Chinese
Phonetic Spelling:
hohng leo
Minority status:
Work Type/Media:
Drawings and prints, Painting
Artistic Role(s):
Installation Artist, Lithographer, Muralist, Painter, Portraitist
Artist's Statement:
I paint from historical photographs, usually those taken of Chinese subjects by foreigners. These have included nineteenth century images of Chinese female “types,” prostitutes, child street acrobats, war refugees, and women laboring at such tasks as pulling a boat upriver, operating an industrial-scale loom, and walking in circles (like mules) behind the handle of a millstone grinder.

As a painter, I am interested in subjecting the documentary authority of historical photographs to the more reflective process of painting; I want to both preserve and destroy the image. Much of the meaning of my painting comes from the way the washes and drips dissolve the photo-based images, opening them to a slower kind of looking, suggesting perhaps the cultural and personal narratives fixed in the photographic instant.

I also introduce traditional Chinese painting motifs into the photo-based field, hoping to enliven and stir up its surface. These include images of birds, flowers, stamps, and landscapes, among others, all borrowed from Chinese art history and suspended in the paintings. The traditional motifs evoke a sense of the cultural memory underlying the surfaces of history. In particular, the stylized Chinese birds - some from paintings as old as one thousand years - seem like witnesses from China’s past, overlooking and commenting upon events from its modern era. Thus, two layers of historical representation – from traditional painting and modern photography – co-exist in my paintings. The result of this overlay is a liberation of the rigid methodology of socialist realism – the style in which I was trained in China – as an improvisational painting style in which the photo-realism used in the service of propaganda dissolves into a fresh kind of history painting. In other words, I convert socialist realism into social realism.

Altogether, I hope to wash my subjects of their exotic “otherness” and reveal them as dignified, even mythic figures on the grander scale of history painting. I am looking for the mythic pose beneath the historical figure - and the painting beneath the photograph.

Statement courtesy of Hung Liu

Other Occupation(s):
Laborer, Lecturer, Professor, Writer
Place(s) of Residence:
Place(s) of Activity:
Where Trained/Schools:
University of California, San Diego, CA, USA (1984-1986) Central Academy of the Fine Arts, Beijing, China (1979-1981) Beijing Teachers College, Beijing, China (1972-1975)
Related Visual Artists:
wife of Jeff Kelley student of Niu Jun student of Allan Kaprow friend of Jim Pomeroy friend of Eleanor Antin friend of David Antin friend of Helen Mayer Harrison friend of Newton Harrison friend of Manny Farber classmate of Patricia Patterson classmate of Lorna Simpson classmate of Christine Tamblyn classmate of Hal Fisher
Fellowships, grants and awards:
Painters and Sculptors Grant Program Award, Joan Mitchell Foundation, New York, NY, USA (1998) Humanities Award, San Francisco Women's Center, San Francisco, CA, USA (1996) Painting Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts, Washington, DC, USA (1991)
Earliest exhibition:
Winter Palace Gallery, Beijing, China (1978)
NMWA exhibition(s):
Steven Scott Collects: Donations and Promised Gifts to the Permanent Collection
Sister, 2000
Untitled (from "Seven Poses" series)
Untitled (from "Seven Poses" series)
Untitled (from "Seven Poses" series)
Untitled (from "Seven Poses" series)
Untitled (from "Seven Poses" series)
Untitled (from "Seven Poses" series)
Untitled (from "Seven Poses" series)