Hung Liu: Making History

An etching of a Chinese woman working at a wooden loom. Three colorful birds sit in the foreground of the print in front of the loom. Above the loom hovers a dream-like figure of a Chinese person wearing a long yellow robe. The figure is riding on a mystical red bird.
Oct 21, 2023, to Oct 20, 2024

Chinese-born American artist Hung Liu (1948–2021) transformed her canvases and paper surfaces into memorial sites for the women and children who she represented. Growing up during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution in China, she toiled in forced labor and trained as a painter before immigrating to California in 1984, where she continued her art education. In the 1990s, Liu discovered historical black-and-white photographs that became her source material, which she combined with imagery from traditional Chinese arts. These elements comprise her powerful portraits of laborers, refugees, orphaned children, women soldiers, and sex workers. Liu monumentalizes these downtrodden and oft-forgotten individuals in history, whom she called “spirit ghosts,” as mythic figures on the grander scale of history painting.

Presenting selections from the museum’s extensive collection of works by the artist, Hung Liu: Making History highlights the array of techniques that Liu used to create her poignant portraits, including collage, layered colors and motifs, and screens of drip marks that she described as a “veil of tears.” The exhibition marks the inaugural presentation of Liu’s major paintings Summer with Cynical Fish (2014) and Winter with Cynical Fish (2014), works acquired by NMWA just prior to the start of the museum’s renovation project. Additionally, a promised gift of a monumental canvas featuring Liu’s signature expressive brushstrokes, evocative symbols, and dazzling colors will also be on view alongside works from the collection.

A portrait bust print of an East Asian woman seen in profile with a butterfly-patterned background. She wears an elaborate up-do with coral colored hair accessories and earrings. Two small figural sculptures and a small glass vase are attached to the surface of the paper.

Hung Liu, La Ran-Butterfly, 2003; Color softground, spitbite aquatint and aquatine etching with scrape and burnish with attached objects, 31 x 25 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Promised gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in honor of the artist and the thirtieth anniversary of the National Museum of Women in the Arts