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 to 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

Exhibition Sponsors

Hung Liu: Making History is organized by the National Museum of Women in the Arts and generously supported by Stephanie Sale and the members of NMWA.

Feb 26, 2024

Exhibition closed today.

Exhibition Hours

Tuesday to Sunday

10 am to 5 pm

Evening Hours: Stay late from 5 to 8 pm on the third Wednesday of the month.

Holiday Closures: NMWA is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

Hours are subject to change.
Check the Plan Your Visit page for updates.

Exhibition Location

Fourth Floor

Related Media

Exhibition Guide

A black-and-white photograph of Hung Liu in her early twenties, wearing a collared shirt and short hair tied back. She sits in a wheat field and looks down at a stalk in her hands.
Explore this online guide delving into the exhibition themes and detailed artwork highlights during or after your visit.

Gallery Labels

A light-skinned Chinese woman with dark hair is depicted in 3/4 view in front of a teal blue background. She wears a red traditional dress.
Access the exhibition text in a scalable format for ease of reading as you explore the galleries or after your visit.

Artist Spotlight

Two smiling Chinese girls with light skin and black hair painted on a collage of Chinese writing, small red envelopes, a red bird and bug, and blue paint drippings. The older girl, seen waist up, wears her hair in two braids and carries the younger girl in crimson clothes on her back.
Explore our Google Arts & Culture feature on Hung Liu in this interactive artist spotlight.

Exhibition Events