Hung Liu was born on February 17th (January 8th on the Chinese calendar, Year of the Rat) in Changchun, China. Changchun had been the capital city for the Japanese puppet dynasty of the exiled “Playboy” Emperor Pu Yi. Changchun is defended by the Nationalist Army (the Kuomintang) of Chiang Kai-shek from the advance of Communist forces led by Lin Biao and Mao Zedong.
Liu’s father, Xia Peng, is a captain in the Kuomintang army. Starvation and panic ensue after months under siege, despite attempts by American planes to drop food and supplies into the city.
In September, the family flees the city looking for food, crossing over into Communist territory. Liu’s father is detained by Communist troops at a checkpoint outside Changchun. She will not see him again until 1994.
Seeking refuge, the remaining family - Liu, her mother, aunt, uncle, and grandparents - make their way to Jilin, a nearby city, and then to a village in the Manchurian countryside where the name “Liu” predominates.
Changchun falls to the Communists in October. Soon after, the family returns to Changchun, “the dead city.”
Liu begins school at a Kindergarten for teachers’ children. Her mother, Liu Zong Guang, is a middle school teacher.
Liu begins elementary school.
Mao Zedong initiates the “Great Leap Forward,” an attempt to catch up with the West in agricultural and industrial production.
Liu, age eleven, decides impulsively at the Changchun train station to accompany her aunt, Liu Zong Yu, to Beijing (where her aunt had lived since 1956). Her mother allows her to go “with only the clothes on her back.”
Liu’s grandparents and mother follow her to Beijing, where they will permanently reside together.
A mass famine, the result of Mao’s disastrous “Great Leap Forward,” grips the nation.
Because of high exam scores, Liu enters a special “experimental” girls’ boarding school in Beijing, the Girls Middle School Attached to Peking Normal University. Her schoolmates include the daughters of Deng Xiaoping and Liu Shao Qi, as well as children of other high Party officials. (Mao’s daughters had attended several years earlier.) Liu remains, performing at the top of her class, until 1966.
The famine begins to ebb in the cities.
Chinese/Soviet relations deteriorate.
Liu’s grandfather - a scholar of the monasteries of Mount Qian in Manchuria - dies.
As Liu is about to graduate from high school, the Cultural Revolution (which will continue for ten years) begins. Millions of youthful Red Guards are unleashed by Mao in an effort to purge Chinese society of Western, “counter- revolutionary,” influences.
Schools close. Liu is unable to receive her diploma.
Liu’s aunt, Liu Zong Yu, has her head shaved in public for having joined the Nationalist Party during the 1920s.
Mao decrees free train travel for young people. Although not a Red Guard, Liu rides the trains throughout China: to Xinjiang, Guangzhou, Harbin, Dalian, Shanghai, and Tianjin.
Liu is sent for proletarian “re-education” among the peasants in the countryside. There, she works in rice and wheat fields seven days a week for four years. She also photographs and draws portraits of local farmers and their families. The drawings are kept in notebooks and pads, and the photographs are not printed until forty years later.
Schools begin to reopen. Liu enters the Revolutionary Entertainment Department of Beijing Teachers’ College to study art and art education.
Nixon arrives in China.
Liu graduates and begins teaching art at the Jingshan School, an elite Beijing school modeled after the Russian system (first grade through tenth).
Asked to teach children’s art on national television, Liu gives weekly lessons from the studios of the Central China Television station, attaining an unexpected fame (and receiving numerous written proposals of marriage). Her program, How to Draw and Paint, lasts several years.
Zhou En Lai dies. Liu is among thousands who take wreaths of paper flowers to Tiananmen Square, nearly covering it. By the next morning, the flowers had been swept away by the authorities.
Liu travels to northern China with a group of school art teachers. There, she experiences the great Tang Shan earthquake in which perhaps a million people were killed.
Mao Zedong dies. His body lies in state, and Liu is among the millions who pass by in procession.
The Gang of Four, including Mao’s widow, Jiang Qing, is arrested.
At age twenty-nine, Liu marries an astronomer. They separate within a year.
Liu gives birth to son, Ling Chen.
Deng Xiaoping emerges as the Paramount Leader of China.
The “Open Door Policy” toward the West is established.
After taking national entrance exams, Liu is accepted by the two leading art schools in China: The Central Academy of Arts and Crafts and the Central Academy of Fine Arts. She decides to attend the latter, majoring in mural painting.
Liu travels to the famous Buddhist cave murals at Dunhuang, in the Gobi Desert along the Silk Road. She meets a young Ai Wei Wei there. During her stay of several weeks she falls ill and nearly dies, perhaps from drinking local water. She is transported back to Beijing, where she recovers after several months.
Liu’s grandmother, Wang Ju Shou, dies in the family’s Beijing apartment.
Liu returns to Dunhuang, where she studies and copies the Buddhist cave murals for forty days. She also visits various famous religious shrines throughout China.
Liu begins work on Music of the Great Earth, a graduation mural project designed for the Foreign Students’ Dining Hall of the Central Academy of Fine Arts.
She applies to the University of California, San Diego, for admission to graduate school in the Visual Arts Department.
Liu divorces her husband (divorces were still uncommon in China).
Liu completes Music of the Great Earth, and begins teaching at the Central Academy.
She is accepted to the University of California, San Diego, for the fall quarter, but her bid for a passport is refused by the Chinese government.
The University of California, San Diego, holds her application open.
Liu studies traditional calligraphy and stamp-making from Niu Jun, an aging scholar and Peking Opera playwright. She continues for three years.
She continues teaching at the Central Academy of Fine Arts.
Liu gets a limited passport for temporary travel to Hong Kong in the hope that it will be easier to get from there to the United States. While in Hong Kong, she receives word from the Chinese Cultural Ministry that her request for a passport has been granted, and she returns to Beijing.
On October 26, Liu boards a China Air 747 in Beijing and departs for San Francisco. At the airport she bids farewell to her mother, aunt, and son. It is the first time she’s ever been on an airplane. She arrives at San Francisco International Airport with two suitcases and $20, spending $1 to rent a luggage cart before flying on to San Diego.
Liu begins her graduate studies at the Visual Arts Department of UCSD. Halloween is the first American party she attends.
At UCSD, Liu meets Moira Roth, Allan Kaprow, Eleanor and David Antin, Sheldon Nodelman, Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, Manny Farber, and Patricia Patterson, as well as fellow graduate students Lorna Simpson, Christine Tamblyn, Hal Fisher, and Jeff Kelley (her future husband).
Liu participates in making a “dumpster” environment and in several Happening-type events with Allan Kaprow.
She travels around the western states with Kelley, and has a residency at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts and Humanities in Idaho. In November, she has her first one-person exhibition at the Sheppard Gallery, University of Nevada, Reno, where she uses the whole space for a mural-installation based on the ancient grotto caves of Dunhuang.
Liu visits New York and its museums, seeing important works of Western art for the first time.
In the spring, she completes a mural, Up and Tao, in a USCD stairwell. In the summer, she marries Kelley at a friend’s house in San Antonio, Texas. Her son, accompanied by her mother and aunt, arrive in San Diego and live with her throughout the fall.
At year’s end, Liu has her graduate exhibition of variously sized white boxes and standing screens painted with traditional Chinese cloud forms. The family moves to Arlington, Texas, where Kelley takes a teaching job at the University of Texas at Arlington.
Liu teaches a Chinese art history course at the University of Texas at Arlington. She also works as an artist-in-residence for the public schools of east Texas.
She paints at home in a “family room” studio, and has several Dallas/Fort Worth area exhibitions and installations.
In need of a job, Liu works as a security guard at the Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth. There she meets Dr. Emily Sano, who later becomes the director of the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. They remain close friends.
On a trip to New York City, Liu introduces her husband to Chinese expatriate artist Ai Wei Wei.
Liu begins a series of small pencil on canvas drawings that depict Mao Zedong meeting various world dignitaries, such as Nixon, Khrushchev, and Chiang Kai-shek. In each case, she does not fill in (or erases) the features of Mao’s face, leaving it blank with only an outline of his profile.
Liu’s mother and aunt return to Beijing. Her son, Ling Chen, remains.
Liu uses her first Apple computer.
Liu spends the summer as a resident artist at the Capp Street Project in San Francisco. She produces a mural, Reading Room, for the community room of Chinese for Affirmative Action in Chinatown, and creates an installation with paintings, Resident Alien, the culmination of her research into the history of Chinese immigration to California. It is a breakout moment in her career.
She completes Where is Mao?, an installation of 1,000 felt cut-outs of Mao’s profile, each with a fortune cookie on top, at the Southwestern College Art Gallery in Chula Vista, California.
In the spring, students in Beijing begin assembling in Tiananmen Square, resulting, on June 4th, in their forced removal by the People’s Liberation Army. These events serve as inspiration for Liu, who borrows an old, turn-of-the-century photograph of a Chinese woman whose feet were bound (from friend and fellow artist Jim Pomeroy) and completes the painting Goddess of Love, Goddess of Liberty.
She receives her first National Endowment for the Arts Painting Fellowship and, in December, has a debut exhibition of paintings in New York.
Liu is offered a teaching position in the Art Department at the University of North Texas, Denton, Texas. Her friend and colleague there is Vernon Fisher.
In the spring, Liu is offered a position with the Art Department of Mills College, in Oakland, California.
In June, before moving from Texas to California, she travels throughout Europe with Kelley, visiting the Venice Biennale, where Robert Rauschenberg, who was being honored at the Russian Pavilion, signs his name on her Chinese passport, offering her “a passport to the art world.”
In a mini-van and a big rental truck, Liu’s family moves in August to Oakland, California.
Liu begins teaching at Mills.
Liu receives her second National Endowment for the Arts Painting Fellowship and begins showing at the Rena Bransten Gallery in San Francisco and the Bernice Steinbaum Gallery in New York City.
She returns to China for the first time since leaving, and discovers a trove of old turn-of-the-century photographs of Chinese prostitutes that she begins using as reference points for her paintings.
With her son, Liu becomes a U.S. citizen in San Francisco.
Liu completes Map No. 33, a major installation/mural project for the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco.
Based on the photographs she discovered in Beijing in 1991, Liu begins a body of work in which 19th and early 20th century Chinese prostitutes, whose pictures were taken in photo studio settings, are associated with master works of Western art, including Mona Lisa, Olympia, Odalisque, and Raft of the Medusa, among others. She also intensifies the theatricality of her paintings by shaping the canvases, displaying Kitsch and antique objects on lacquered shelves, and attaching fragments of traditional Chinese architecture.
Liu participates in the 43rd Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
She travels again to China in search of more archival photographs.
Liu, her husband, and son return with her mother – Liu Zong Guang – to the family’s small ancestral village near Shenyang, in northern China, where they participate in a “grave sweeping” ceremony honoring her grandparents, whose graves are earthen mounds in a corn field.
Liu paints a large self-portrait in the cornfield called Burial at Little Golden Village.
Drips begin to appear as an erosive force in Liu’s paintings.
During this period, the physical shapes of Liu’s canvases correspond to the outlines of her subjects, so that the idea of “ground” is illuminated in favor of “figure.”
Liu paints a number of “revolutionary” self-portraits: as a soldier, as a Buddha, as a peasant, and as a third world woman with a “third eye.”
She also paints – through 1995 – several works depicting cross-gender performance, including a boy making up as a girl in Peeking Opera, and ballerinas dressed as soldiers in the Cultural Revolutionary Red Detachment of Women.
Liu participates in Asia/America: Identities in Contemporary Asian American Art at the Asia Society in New York City.
Using historical photographs from 1930s China, she paints a series of modern Chinese women, posing as athletes, students, dancers, and matrons of bourgeois means.
During her opening of Year of the Dog, an exhibition at the Steinbaum Krauss Gallery in New York, young Chinese artists Liu Xiao Dong and Yu Hong introduce themselves.
Liu also completes Jiu Jin Shan (Old Gold Mountain), an installation of 200,000 fortune cookies at the M.H. De Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, California. The large golden pile of fortune cookies refers, in part, to the earthen grave mounds of her grandparents in northern China (and also, of course, to California – a mountain of gold).
She learns that her father, whom she hasn’t known since infancy, is still alive and living on a rural work farm for elderly inmates near Nanjing, where he had lived for many years. By coincidence she travels there on Father’s Day to meet him, and learns that he had been imprisoned on and off since 1948.
The Internet arrives – sort of – in China.
Liu serves on the last National Endowment for the Arts Painting Fellowship panel.
Inspired by Bernardo Bertolucci’s film The Last Emperor (1988), Liu begins work on a series of grand canvases taken from 19th and early 20th century photographs of China’s last imperial court, the Qing Dynasty. Focusing on its boy (and playboy) emperor (Puyi), the powerful Dowager Empress (Cixi), and the various concubines and eunuchs of the court, she creates a pre-revolutionary analogue of the power, intrigues, and betrayals of the Chinese Communist Party under Mao. These paintings continue through 1998.
The Last Dynasty opens at the Steinbaum Krauss Gallery in New York.
She receives tenure from Mills College.
Liu participates in American Kaleidoscope: Art At The Close Of This Century, at the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, in Washington D.C.
Meanwhile, in Japan, her work is included (with such artists as Mike Kelley, Enrique Chagoya, and Manuel Ocampo) in American Stories: Amidst Displacement and Transformation, an exhibition organized by the Setagaya Art Museum and Asahi Shimbun that travels to five Japanese museums.
Xia Peng, Liu’s father dies.
Ling Chen goes to college.
Liu turns forty-eight in the “Year of the Rat.” Her year. In Chinese mythology, every twelve-year cycle brings a life-changing event. At her “Year of the Rat” celebration dinner, Liu reflects upon how her life has changed at twelve-year intervals: how at twelve she moved to Beijing; how at twenty-four the Cultural Revolution ended, she left the countryside, and went to college; how at thirty-six she immigrated to the United States; and how at forty-eight – with her father’s death, her son’s leaving home, her inclusion in a Tokyo exhibition as an “American” artist, and the beginning of plans by The College of Wooster Art Museum for her ten-year survey – she can finally look back in amazement.
Hong Kong is returned to Chinese rule.
Hung Liu: Unfolding Memory - Embodying History opens at the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College (where Ling Chen is a student).
The theme of “women at work” emerges in Liu’s paintings. Chinese women – young and old – are depicted in stooped labor and domestic tasks.
Liu begins painting circles into her compositions, as if brushy gestures that neither begin nor end – a kind of Buddhist abstraction.
Liu’s first retrospective exhibition, Hung Liu: A Ten-Year Survey 1988-1998, is organized by Kathleen McManus Zurko for the Wooster College Museum of Art. The catalogue includes essays by Allan Kaprow, Thalia Gouma-Peterson, Dave Hickey, and Norman Bryson. The show travels to five additional U.S. museums and establishes Liu’s thematic and pictorial vocabulary.
For an exhibition at the Rena Bransten Gallery called Chinese Types, poet and critic Bill Berkson writes about Liu as an “action painter” whose drips, veils, and runnels of paint constitute a kind of slow (almost anticlimactic) disillusion of the rigid Socialist Realist academic style in which she was trained.
Motifs from traditional Chinese painting – birds and flowers in particular – begin to appear in Liu’s paintings.
Liu receives a Joan Mitchell Foundation grant.
Construction begins on the Great Firewall of China.
Millennium Messages - Time Capsules opens at the Heckscher Museum of Art, Long Island, New York.
On large canvases, Liu depicts women and children as refugees from war and social upheaval. In each painting she offers her fleeing subjects the solace of their own heritage by including motifs – birds and flowers, Buddhist iconography – from traditional Chinese painting.
Liu purchases a new studio in Oakland - unlike the studio she rented for ten years, it has a bathroom and running water.
Where is Mao? 2000 is exhibited at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand. During a discussion with students, Liu is asked what it feels like to be an American after being Chinese. She replies “China is my homeland. An American is something I’m always becoming – it’s a verb.”
Ling Chen graduates from college.
Exhibits in Text & Subtext – Contemporary Art and Asian Women, a show that travels over three years from Singapore to Sydney, Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen, Taipei, and Beijing.
Participates in The View from Here: Issues of Cultural Identity and Perspective in Contemporary Russian and American Art, the Hand Print Workshop International, Alexandria, Virginia, and the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. This is Liu’s first trip to Russia. On a bus ride outside St. Petersburg in December, she sees the wintery, melancholy landscapes of Sulykov, Savrasov, and Repin - painters she has studied since childhood.
An American spy plane collides with a Chinese fighter plane and makes an emergency landing in Hainan, China. The Chinese pilot is killed and the U.S. crew is detained for ten days.
Liu’s father-in-law, Don Kelley, dies in Las Vegas.
Liu awakens to a radio report that the World Trade Center towers in New York are on fire. In the aftermath of 9/11, she paints a canvas called September, which depicts a traditionally rendered Song Dynasty duck crashing through the face of a young Chinese bride, each image disintegrating the other. The work soon comes to seem like a portrait of a new age in which we are wedded to the unthinkable.
In the wake of 9/11, she explores the themes of annunciation and lamentation, as portentous messages beam through individuals, and the society weeps.
Strange Fruit: New Paintings by Hung Liu, a traveling exhibition of 25 paintings, is organized by the Arizona State University Art Museum and the Boise Art Museum. It’s depictions of Korean “comfort women,” famine victims, and prisoners of war – inspired by Strange Fruit, the blues song about southern lynchings that was made famous by Billie Holiday in 1939 – suggest a bitter ripening of subject matter.
Liu exhibits in Art/Women/California: Parallels and Intersections, 1950 – 2000, at the San Jose Museum of Art.
The United States invades Iraq.
Toward Peng-Lai (Paradise) is exhibited at the Rena Bransten Gallery in San Francisco. Critic Kenneth Baker writes “many modern artists have proclaimed painting a realm of freedom, but too little contemporary work makes us feel the truth of this view … Hung Liu’s new work at Bransten does … (her) toying with historical and stylistic impossibilities would seem merely arbitrary did it not apparently free her hand to paint as it pleases.” If paradise is unattainable in this world, then perhaps a more perfect world can be found in painting.
Liu paints a series of twenty-nine small canvases entitles Mission Girls. Each canvas, depicting several orphaned girls, is based on a larger communal photograph from a 19th century Chinese orphanage.
Liu’s beloved aunt – Liu Zongyu – dies in a senior care facility outside Beijing.
Liu exhibits in China for the first time since leaving. The exhibition, in Shanghai, is called Lament.
Liu is invited by the Sun Valley Center for the Arts and Humanities to paint portraits from archival photographs of Chinese in Idaho during the 19th century gold rush, resulting in the exhibition The Vanishing: Re-presenting the Chinese in the American West. Polly Bemis, a who was smuggled from China to San Francisco in 1872, and then found her way to Idaho, where she became a prominent woman, is Liu’s primary subject.
She accompanies Kelley and writer Bill Fox on a sojourn up the Yangtze River where they meet the painter Liu Xiao Dong as he works on a large group portrait of male peasant laborers overlooking the river as it rises, inch by inch, behind the Three Gorges Dam.
Liu paints Modern Time, a pseudo-propaganda style diptych that contrasts two dreams: the trance of the Marxist worker (with pictures of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin hovering overhead) and an artist’s reverie (inspired by Van Gough). It also includes three ticking Mao clocks from the Cultural Revolution on lacquered shelves.
Liu participates in Visual Politics: the Art of Engagement, curated by Peter Selz, San Jose Museum of Art.
She is also invited by artist Tom Marioni to produce a five-minute video for A Motion Picture, at the DeYoung Museum, San Francisco. Other invited artists included David Ireland, Jim Melchert, William Wiley, and Lynn Hershman Leeson.
The Vanishing: Re-Presenting the Chinese in the American West travels to the
University of Wyoming Art Museum in Laramie. Liu adds “China Mary” paintings to the show (China Mary was a 19th century Chinese pioneer in Wyoming).
Matriarchy: Hung Liu’s New Work opens at Art Scene China Warehouse in Shanghai.
While in China, Liu travels with her mother and husband to Mount Qian (Qian Shan) in Manchuria. Liu’s grandfather, Liu Weihua (1894-1962), was a scholar who spent most of his adult life traveling through, photographing, and researching the monastic culture of these mountains. Known in English as “One Thousand Lotus Flower Peaks,” Qian Shan is a region with a unique integration of Buddhist and Taoist monasteries dating to ancient times. (In 2002, Liu helped publish her grandfather’s eleven volume book in China.)
Liu takes painting students from Mills College to Beijing, where they visit the studios of such artists as Ai Weiwei, Liu Xiaodong, Yu Hong, Sui Jianguo, Wang Gongxin, Lin Tianmiao, and others.
Allan Kaprow dies; with Kelley, Liu attends his memorial at the University of California, San Diego.
Going Away, Coming Home, a 160 foot long window mural created in Germany is installed in the new terminal of the Oakland International Airport. Liu’s use of crane imagery in Going Away, Coming Home is directly influenced by the 12th-century Chinese silk painting, Auspicious Cranes. Dating from the Northern Song dynasty (960 – 1127), this rare hanging scroll was painted by Emperor Huizong and depicts 20 cranes flying over the roof of his palace, bringing blessings, peace and prosperity to his dwelling. Combining these with digitized images from satellite weather maps of the US west coast and the Asia-Pacific region, the windows quickly become one of Liu’s most popular works.
Liu invites Liu Xiaodong to speak at Mills College. While there, they complete blind, simultaneous portraits of each other (they watch each other watching each other painting each other) and exchange the results.
Inspired by a 1948 Chinese propaganda film, Daughters of China, which she saw as a child, Liu embarks on a series of paintings by the same name. Each painting represents a single frame from the film, which tells the true story of a detachment of Chinese women soldiers in 1938 who, with their backs against a river, carried their dying and wounded into the water to drown rather than surrender to the Japanese. In the context of her own life and work, Liu’s Daughters of China paintings reframe the heroic impulses of socialist propaganda in feminist terms.
Daughters of China is exhibited at the Rena Bransten Gallery in San Francisco.
Hung Liu: ZZ (Bastard Paintings) opens at the Nancy Hoffman Gallery in New York. This represents the most ambitious expression to date of the mixed media and resin pieces created in collaboration with David Salgado of Trillium Graphics.
The Year of the Rat begins (Hung Liu is a rat).
“Take Off,” a large-scale public mural, is installed at the San Francisco International Airport, International Terminal Gate A-5.
One day before Liu arrives in Beijing, the Wenchuan Earthquake strikes the Sichuan Province of China. Measuring at 7.9, it kills an estimated 68,000 people, including many school children attending school in poorly constructed classrooms.
Daughters of China travels to the F2 Gallery in Beijing. At the opening reception, the artist Fang Lijun tells Liu after looking at her paintings “Chinese artists make paintings like they fart. You actually struggle when you paint.”
The following day, Great Granary opens at the Xin Beijing Art Gallery. A kind of mini-retrospective of paintings never seen in China, the exhibition revolves around a new, ambitious installation - Tai Cang (Great Granary) - in which a 40 foot long reinvention of Liu’s 1981 mural - Music of the Great Earth, in the since destroyed dining hall of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing - hangs on a refurbished wall of the 14th century Imperial Granary, while 34 antique wooden containers (dou) filled with grains and spices from every province in China are deployed across the gallery floor.
Liu’s mother, Liu Zong Guang, completes her book, Rainbow Over the Pacific, on her daughter’s life and art.
Liu’s work is exhibited in Half-Life of a Dream: Contemporary Chinese Art from the Logan Collection, at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The show was curated by Jeff Kelley.
On August 8, 2008, at 8pm, the Beijing Summer Olympics open with a globally-televised extravaganza that reminds Liu of political pageants from revolutionary China.
The Great Recession begins in the US.
Rat Years is exhibited at the Walter Maciel Gallery in Los Angeles. A series of portraits depicting the artist at twelve-year intervals from infancy to 6o years of age, Rat Years contrasts each self-portrait with an image from a drawing or painting done by the artist in that same year, including in childhood. Thus, Liu “collaborates” with her “younger self.”
With her husband, Liu attends the inauguration of Barack Obama in Washington DC.
On a hike near her home, Liu happens upon a deer lying in the grass alongside a road. Although killed by a passing car, it remains angelic, as if asleep. She walks around its body in a circle taking pictures with her iPhone. These photographs become the basis for numerous paintings in which the image of the deer, seen from so many angels, seems to pivot through space.
Liu devotes herself to a series of paintings depicting people in the aftermath of the 2008 Sichuan quake. The subject of these paintings is less the disaster itself than the expressions of mythic emotions on the faces of the survivors: grief, shock, confusion, stunned silence, courage, and mourning. Drawing upon her experiences at the Dunhuang caves, she incorporates images of Apsaras (wingless, female spirits - like angels - derived from Hindu and Buddhist iconography) into the paintings.
In collaboration with poet Michael McClure, Liu works with Don Farnsworth of Magnolia Editions to create a book called Deer Boy. She does drawings of the dead deer she photographed in 2008 and McClure writes an epic poem.
Liu attends an art education conference in her hometown, Changchun - the first time she’s been to the “dead city” since her family fled the Communist army in 1948.
Paintings from the Daughters of China series are exhibited at the 10 Chancery Lane Gallery in Hong Kong.
Liu donates her little painting box - the one she used in China before coming to the US - to the Oakland Museum of California.
As part of a fundraiser for the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Liu designs the exterior for a Smart Car by “wrapping” a pattern of Chinese imperial cranes around the tiny vehicle’s body.
As a visiting artist, Liu paints several canvases in a classroom in front of hundreds of students at the art department of Fullerton College, California.
Drawing from Life and Death opens at the Rena Bransten Gallery in San Francisco. In a departure from her habit of painting from historical photographs, Liu’s new paintings depict subjects that are dead - the deer, a robin that fell from the sky into her studio, a human cadaver - but which have been studied, photographed, and rendered from life.
She is awarded an honorary doctorate from the Laguna College of Art + Design.
While Liu is visiting with her mother in Beijing, her mother-in-law, Rosemary Kelley, dies in Maine.
As the year ends, Liu’s mother takes ill in Beijing and enters Tongren Hospital.
Liu Zonguang dies on January 29th - January 28th in California.
Liu is awarded the SGC International Lifetime Achievement Award for Printmaking.
In Beijing, Liu and her husband empty her mother’s apartment. All of Liu Zong Guang’s former middle-school students - men now in their 60s - attend a memorial dinner in their teacher’s honor.
First Spring Thunder opens at the Alexander Ochs Gallery in Beijing. The paintings in this show revolve around the idea of some kind of awakening in the dreamscapes of war, memory, and the natural world. They also refer to one of the twenty-four traditional Chinese seasons during which rumbling skies awaken the insects and the land. In a gesture of respect, some of China’s most prominent artists - including Fang Lijun, Liu Xiaodong, Yu Hong, Yang Shaobin, Lin Tianmiao, Wang Gongxin, and Zhan Wang - attend the opening.
(re)Pressed Memories, a mini-retrospective of Liu’s prints, opens at the Tamarind Institute in Albuquerque.
Liu Zong Guang’s ashes are spread in the ocean off the coast of Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands - half way between China and California.
Liu is a speaker in Shanghai at the International Conference on Chinese Women and Visual Representation, the first feminist conference in China to explicitly include lesbians. The title of Liu’s talk is From Mulan to the Red Detachment of Women.
The Hung Liu Endowed Fellowship - an annual gift to a promising incoming graduate student - is established in the Mills College Art Department.
The Year of the Dragon begins.
On the one year anniversary of her mother’s passing, Liu completes a series of 51 small paintings over a 49 day mourning period. Beginning with images from photographs taken in her mother’s apartment when she was in the hospital - a bowl of dumplings never eaten, spots of mold growing in a jar of old soup, an empty chair pulled askance from the dining table, a toothbrush in a cup on the bathroom sink, the telephone over which Liu talked with her mother every day for the prior eight years - the paintings pass through the final stages of a life’s decline. One painting represents the moment of death as a green electronic line on a bedside monitor that goes flat; the very next painting is a thick, anguished smear of black paint, followed by another in which a faint painted circle emerges. In quick succession, the circle morphs into the form of a lighted candle, and one candle follows another - each a close-up of a waxy, luminous orb in a dark space - for the remaining several weeks, until the artist runs out of canvases.
Liu exhibits ambitious new mixed media and resin pieces at Di Rosa in the Napa Valley. Long, horizontal compositions, they are a glistening synthesis of traditional Chinese landscapes and stage designs for Cultural Revolutionary ballet.
Liu welcomes a Chinese daughter-in-law.
In a striking change, Liu begins a body of paintings that are based on the patriotic stories in Chinese “picture books,” or xiaorenshu, from her childhood. Like little graphic novellas, the picture books tell patriotic stories of heroic figures and deeds, but their official realism is tempered by the individual styles of artists who, though now in the service of the state, were once trained in traditional Chinese art. Like Dick and Jane primers for American children during the 1950s, the images of Chinese workers, peasants, and soldiers building a better nation are hand-held lessons in socialization, at once charming and eerie. If seen from an historical perspective, and at a cultural remove, the propaganda supplants the fable. Painted in Liu’s dissoluble style, however, and in a brighter, more graphic pallet, her paintings become knowingly (but not merely) ironic; their influences are neither propaganda nor Pop, but personal contact as a child with the little paper books and, as an adult, with the training and styles that lay behind them. They can be understood as an homage to all of the artists who lost their art during China’s revolutionary epoch - and to the possibility of finding it again.
Liu prepares for her first major retrospective exhibition at the Oakland Museum of California.
Summoning Ghosts: The Art of Hung Liu opens at the Oakland Museum of California in March. It is a critical and public success. Sixty works, gathered from museums, private collectors, and from the artist, allows one to discern the arc of a life as it bends from collective experience, political repression, and artistic orthodoxy to the invention of an individual (and yet international) language whose subjects, drawn from archival photography, are the dispossessed of Chinese history – prostitutes, peasants, orphans, immigrants, exotic types, prisoners, the condemned. They are the women and children of violent, revolutionary modernity, the ghosts on the other side of the photographic plate. By turning old photographs into new paintings, Liu brings her subjects out of the shadows of history and into the space of contemporary consciousness, where she offers them the stroke-by-stroke solace of her attention.
Offerings opens at the Mills College Art Museum. Liu’s large-scale installations have been an important part of her work throughout her career. This exhibition presented a rare opportunity to experience two of the Oakland-based artist’s most significant installations: Jui Jin Shan (Old Gold Mountain) (1994) and Tai Cang—Great Granary (2008).
Liu retires from Mills College after twenty-four years.
Summoning Ghosts travels to the Kemper Museum in Kansas City, which also hosted Liu's ten-year survey exhibition (organized by the Wooster College Museum of Art) in 1999.
2015 - Present
Work in progress...
Compiled and written by Jeff Kelley between 1998-2012.