Finding her story in China’s troubled history—artist Hung Liu’s retrospective, “Summoning Ghosts,” at the Oakland Museum of CA, closes June 30, 2013
The ghosts of the Cultural Revolution, the tragedy of Tiananmen, the horror of the 2008 Sichuan Province earthquake, her mother’s death, treasured images from childhood comics—all these are revived in artist Hung Lui’s first major retrospective, Summoning Ghosts: The Art of Hung Liu at the Oakland Museum of CA (OMCA) through Sunday, June 30, 2013. Hung Liu, now 65 and newly retired from 20 years of teaching painting at Mills College, is the most accomplished Chinese-born American artist of her generation. The exhibition explores her creative output from age five through the present. Together for the first time are 40 of her large-scale portraits of women, children, the elderly, workers—nameless victims of history. Surrounded by birds and mythical creatures, floral motifs, symbols of past and present Chinese culture, and things an innocuous as bubbles, these vibrant gestural portraits are teaming with spirit energy and copious spills and drips of paint, evoking the blur of fading memories. Hung Liu rescues the disenfranchised from the oblivion of history, celebrating them without diminishing the suffering that has characterized their lives.
Hung Liu was born in 1948 and came of age in Beijing in the repressive era of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Her father, an intellectual, was imprisoned and, at age 20, after finishing high school, she was sent to a labor camp in the countryside for four years of “re-education” where she worked with peasants in the rice and wheat fields. Instead of crushing her, as it did so many, she used these traumatic experiences to fuel a vital inner flame which she kept burning as she resumed life in Beijing and studied and taught art. Many years later, she was able to emigrate to the U.S. in 1984, at age 36. She arrived with two suitcases and $20 and pursued an art education on scholarship at Visual Arts Department of UC San Diego. Within a year, she had connected with Allan Kaprow and was participating in several of his happenings. Summoning Ghosts, organized by René de Guzman, OMCA Senior Curator of Art, presents Hung Liu’s compelling life story, told through her artworks, as well as the larger human story of the souls crushed in China’s slow crawl to superpower status. It’s an unflinching and remarkably vital story of humanity.
Video Clips of Hung Liu in discussion with OMCA’s René de Guzman (all from the March 14, 2013 press conference)
In 1968, as part of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, Liu, who had just completed high school, was sent for four years of re-education in the Chinese countryside which entailed manual labor under grueling conditions. With a borrowed camera, she photographed the peasants with whom she lived and worked in the fields and also drew their portraits. The film was kept undeveloped for decades until 2010, when she became interested in printing at these images. She also kept portraits she had made of the local farmers and their families and they are on display. In the video-clip below, Hung Liu discusses these photos.
ARThound’s previous coverage of Hung Liu and “Summoning Ghosts:” CAAMFest 2013—Jin Dan’s masterpiece “When the Bough Breaks,” examines upward mobility’s downward emotional toll on a Chinese migrant family as days, months, years pass
Special Docent Tours: each Sunday at 1 p.m., through June 30, 2103, knowledgeable docents will walk visitors through the exhibition, sharing insights about Hung Lui’s processes and artworks. Meet in front of the Great Hall lobby. Free with museum admission.
Details: The Oakland Museum of California is located at 1000 Oak Street, Oakland. Open Wednesday-Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m, except Fridays when the museum is open until 9 p.m. Admission is $12 general, $9 seniors and students with valid ID. Parking: Enter the Museum’s garage entrance on Oak Street between 10th and 12th streets. Parking is just $1/hour with Museum validation. Parking without validation is $2.50/hour. Bring your ticket to the Ticketing booth on Level 2 for validation.
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