Hung Liu reflects on migration in de Young's Wilsey Court
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Hung Liu reflects on migration in de Young's Wilsey Court
"Hung Liu: Golden Gate (金門)" at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. Image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA.- The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco are presenting Hung Liu: Golden Gate (金門), a new installation by renowned artist Hung Liu. The site-specific installation, which greets visitors in the de Young museum’s Wilsey Court, features four new and four existing works, highlighting international and domestic narratives of migration. Based in Oakland, Liu is one of the most important Chinese-born artists working in the US today. Reimagining some of her most iconic paintings through the lens of her personal history, she places herself among and celebrates the migrants who arrived in California from both land and sea.

“Much of Liu’s work confronts official and state-sanctioned narratives with personal stories and historical truths,” states Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “This powerful new installation from Liu honors the contributions and voices of the Bay Area’s immigrant communities. We invite our audiences to reflect on the contributions of those who have sought a new future in California and helped build our multifaceted society, especially given the recent local and national attacks on our AAPI communities throughout this past year.”

Born in Changchun, China in 1948, Liu immigrated from China to the US in 1984, passing through the mythical Golden Gate on the way to graduate school at the University of California, San Diego. Formally trained in the socialist realist style of painting, Liu's mature style has broadened to incorporate elements of improvisation, re-creating the subjects of archival photographs into a kind of weeping realism that is more lyrical. Challenging primary sources, officially sanctioned documents, and revisionist accounts, Liu foregrounds displaced and wandering people frequently left out of traditional historical narratives and resurfaces stories lost to time.

“Hung Liu is uniquely positioned to tell the stories of immigrants to the United States. In 2020, she celebrated the milestone of having lived an equal number of years in China and the United States. As one of the foremost painters in the United States, Liu is a testament to the fact that our brightest citizens are often born under foreign skies,” states Janna Keegan, Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art and Programming at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Hung Liu: Golden Gate (金門) is the latest project to be presented within the framework of the Museums’ Contemporary Art Program, which presents the work of living artists in dialogue with the Museums’ unique buildings and permanent collections. The installation marks Liu’s return to the de Young museum. In 1994 her installation Jiu Jin Shan (Old Gold Mountain) explored the history of Chinese immigrants to California during the Gold Rush and prior to the adoption of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Chinese Shrimp Junk II (1994) was featured in this exhibition and returns the de Young for this special installation.

Hung Liu: Golden Gate (金門) is organized by Janna Keegan, Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art and Programming at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. The installation will be on view through March 13, 2022 at the de Young museum in San Francisco.

In Detail

In imagining Golden Gate (金門), Liu was inspired by migrants who, like herself, came to California and became an indelible part of its history, society, and culture.

Liu’s personal history anchors the installation, with its central feature being an ambitious reinvention of what is arguably her most famous painting Resident Alien, first exhibited at the Capp Street Project in 1988. Resident Alien depicts her own "Green Card" -a self-portrait- on an heroic, larger-than-life scale. That painting, now in the collection of the San Jose Museum of Art, is the conceptual lynchpin of Golden Gate (金門). Dramatically scaled and visually intensified as a seventy-seven-panel reinvention of the original painting, the work covers the main wall in the de Young’s Wilsey court. Liu was able to work with Donald Farnsworth of Magnolia Editions in Oakland to design, print, and paint the piece, now called Resident Alien 2021.

Flanking and in dialogue with Resident Alien 2021 are new works by Liu, drawing parallels between the journeys of those who came from China with migrant workers represented in the photography of Dorothea Lange. To the left, visitors will see the return of Liu’s Chinese Shrimp Junk II (1994) to the walls of the de Young, first installed in the Jiu Jin Shan (Old Gold Mountain) exhibition. This painting captures an iconic image of the history of Chinese migrants in the Bay Area.

On the opposite wall, Liu paints life back into the portraits of Depression-era farmhands and itinerant workers Girl with Sack (2021) and Cotton Picker 2021 (2021) through her interpretation of Lange’s work, engaging the source photographs with dynamism, color, and Liu’s signature “weeping realist style.” Corn Carrier 2 depicts a peasant carrying a bushel of corn on her back, reminiscent of a photograph of the artist in the same pose from her years working as a peasant during the Cultural Revolution in China.

The Dance (2013) and Right and Left (2013), interspersed through Liu’s larger pieces, respectfully honor and refer to works from Henri Matisse and Winslow Homer, and contribute to the installation’s dreamlike nature–a quality prevalent in Liu’s iconography.

As a whole, the installation symbolizes the artist’s personal crossing from China to America, as well as her younger and older selves, against the socially charged backdrop of immigration worldwide.

The exhibition’s chat panels are available in English, Spanish, and Traditional Chinese Script, referencing the most widely spoken languages across the Bay Area, and paying homage to the many who call the Bay Area home.

Hung Liu was born in Changchun, China in 1948, and studied mural painting as a graduate student at the Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing, before immigrating to the US in 1984 to attend the University of California, San Diego. Over her long career, Liu has formed a practice spanning painting, printmaking, and large-scale installation.

Liu’s works have been exhibited extensively and collected by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco; and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, among others. Portraits of Promised Lands, 1968–2020, a retrospective of her work, opens at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Fall 2021, marking the first solo exhibition by an Asian American woman at the museum. A two-time recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in painting, Liu also received a lifetime achievement award in printmaking from the Southern Graphics Council International in 2011. Liu currently lives in Oakland and is a Professor Emerita at Mills College.

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