Contemporary artist Hung Liu celebrated in 'Reveries' at the Honolulu Museum of Art

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Contemporary artist Hung Liu celebrated in 'Reveries' at the Honolulu Museum of Art
Hung Liu, Temple School, 1996, Oil on canvas, Collection of Honolulu Museum of Art. (2021-07-03).

HONOLULU.- In celebration of the recent acquisition of three paintings, the Honolulu Museum of Art (HoMA) will present Reveries: The Art of Hung Liu, an exhibition focused on painter and printmaker Hung Liu (1948–2021). It will be on view Aug. 18, 2022 through May 28, 2023.

One of the best-known contemporary Chinese American artists, Liu's paintings and mixed media works are rooted in history and bring attention to the plight of marginalized people. Trained in China under the principles of the Socialist Realist style, an artistic movement that idealized life under communism, Liu came to the United States in 1984 to continue her studies and developed a deeply personal approach to painting. Referred to as “weeping realism,” Liu’s unique portraiture technique uses a blend of layered brushstrokes and washes of linseed oil, giving the subject matter a veiled appearance with an element of abstraction.

“In Reveries, we see that Liu is able to take photographs and bring us closer to the narratives and stories underneath the surface—she gets to a different level of the truth beyond the purely documentary nature of the photographs she works with,” said HoMA’s Director of Curatorial Affairs Catherine Whitney. “By allowing her paint to drip, the canvas appears to be crying, serving as a reminder of how memory becomes blurred with the passage of time.”

During Mao’s Cultural Revolution, the artist’s family was forced to destroy many photographs, an event that motivated Liu to develop a vast personal collection of anonymous 19th century historical photographs from China. Drawing from her homeland’s long history and her own experiences as a female artist in Maoist China, Liu honored the casualties, memorializing the marginalized figures depicted in the images—mostly women, children, laborers, prostitutes, refugees and soldiers. The incorporation of traditional Chinese symbols and iconography such as circles, birds, insects and flowers connect personal narratives to the broader social structure and history of China.

Reveries includes three recent acquisitions of large-scale paintings: Temple School (1996), Reverie (1998) and Imperial Pillar (2011), gifts from the estate of longtime museum supporter Joyce Stupski. Additionally, works of art on loan from the collection of Ella Qing Hou and J. Sanford Miller, the Turner Carroll Gallery and the Collection of Jordan D. Schnitzer will be on view—all strong examples of Liu’s signature style.

“Hung Liu’s paintings stand as memorials to the individuals portrayed and draws attention to human rights struggles and the resilience of oppressed people to attain dignity and freedom,” said Halona Norton-Westbrook, director and CEO of the Honolulu Museum of Art. “Her works reflect the museum’s ongoing commitment to expand the diversity of our collections with acquisitions by women and artists of color.”

Hung Liu was born in Changchun, China in 1948 and came of age during China’s Cultural Revolution. After graduating from high school, she spent four years working as a laborer in rice and wheat fields. Initially trained in the Social Realist style, Liu studied mural painting at the Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing before emigrating to the U.S. at the age of 36 to attend the University of California, San Diego. Liu taught art at Mills College in Oakland from 1990 to 2014 and was a two-time recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in painting. She received a Lifetime Achievement Award in printmaking from the Southern Graphics Council International in 2011. Her paintings have been exhibited extensively and are in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and now the Honolulu Museum of Art, among others. Recent exhibitions in 2022 were Hung Liu: Portraits of Promised Lands at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. and Hung Liu: Golden Gate at the de Young Museum in San Francisco.

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