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Hung Liu
american (b. china)
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Changchun, China
Death Date: 
Known for her paintings and prints based on photographs, particularly Chinese photographs from the 19th and 20th centuries, and her many years teaching studio art at Mills College in Oakland, Calif., Hung Liu is also a muralist and the creator of large art installations at the Oakland (2006) and San Francisco (2008) airports. She was born in Changchun in north-eastern China in 1948 during China’s civil war. Her father was an officer in the Nationalist Army defending the city from the Red Army of Mao Zedong, which laid siege to the city in May, 1948, resulting in mass starvation. Liu’s family escaped the city but her father was arrested by the Red Army troops (she would not see him again until 1994). Liu and the rest of her family returned to Changchun after the city fell to Mao’s army. Liu attended elementary school there, but in 1959 went with an aunt to Beijing, soon followed by her mother and grandparents. Success on entrance examinations allowed her to attend a prestigious girls’ boarding school attached to Beijing’s Peking Normal University, also attended by the daughters of Communist Party elite, where her artistic talent was encouraged. Before her high school graduation the Cultural Revolution closed her school and many others. Liu was sent to the countryside in 1968 to be “re-educated” as an agricultural worker. As schools reopened in 1972 Liu enrolled in the Revolutionary Entertainment Department of the Beijing Teacher’s College to study art and art education. She graduated in 1975 and went to work as a teacher of primary and secondary school students at Beijing’s Jing Shan School and also taught a televised course on “How to Draw and Paint,” which brought her nationwide fame. Married in 1977 to an astronomer, they separated the following year and were divorced in 1980; her son was born in 1978. Liu entered the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1979, majoring in mural painting. Her graduation project was a large mural for a dining hall in the Academy. After graduating with the equivalent of a M.F.A. degree in 1981 she taught at the Academy but also applied and was accepted for the graduate program in art at the University of California, San Diego. She was not allowed to emigrate until 1984. Her experience at UCSD was very different than the conservative instruction and artistic practice in which she had been trained. The faculty included such free thinkers as Allan Kaprow (1927-2006), the performance artist and creator of “Happenings.” Among her fellow graduate students was Jeff Kelley, her future husband. Liu had her first solo exhibition, a mural, at the University of Nevada, Reno in 1985. Liu and Kelley were married in 1986. After she received her M.F.A. degree later that year, they moved to Arlington, Texas, where Kelley began teaching at the University of Texas campus there. Liu taught a course at UT Arlington, worked as a security guard at the Kimball Art Museum in Ft. Worth and painted in a home studio. She was an artist-in-residence at San Francisco’s Capp Street Project in 1988 and received a National Endowment for the Arts Painting Fellowship the next year (and a second in 1991). Liu taught at the University of North Texas in Denton for academic year 1989-90, and then accepted an offer to teach at Mills College; she, Kelley and her son moved to Oakland in 1990. She and her son became American citizens in 1991. She traveled to China that year and in Beijing found an album of 19th century photographs of Chinese courtesans. These images along with other old photos of the Chinese working classes provided the inspiration for her paintings for years. Liu began regular solo exhibitions at the Rena Bransten Gallery in San Francisco in 1991, at the Bernice Steinbaum Gallery in New York City in 1992, and since 2005 at New York’s Nancy Hoffman Gallery. She was commissioned to created a large mural for San Francisco’s Moscone Convention Center in 1992. Her 1994 installation of 200,000 fortune cookies “Jiu Jin Shan (Old Gold Mountain)” Was exhibited at the de Young Museum. She received tenure at Mills College as an Associate Professor of Art in 1995. Honors she has received include a Joan Mitchell Foundation grant (1998), an appointment to an endowed chair at Mills (1999), the Outstanding Alumna Award from UCSD (2000) and a full professorship at Mills (2001). Liu’s printmaking career began at Paulson Press in Berkeley in 1997 with seven aquatint etchings; she has created twenty-seven etchings with Paulson (later Paulson Bott Press and now Paulson Fontaine Press), most recently in 2012. Liu retired from Mills College in 2014 and is now Professor Emerita. The Oakland Museum of California organized a large retrospective exhibition for her in 2013, “Summoning Ghosts: The Art of Hung Liu,” which traveled to Kansas City and Palm Springs. Liu lives and works in Oakland. (TNB 6/2017) Selected bibliography: Atkinson, Alan G. Hung Liu: Now and Then . Exhibition catalog. Norman: University of Oklahoma, School of Art and Art History, 2008. de Guzman, Rene, et al. Summoning Ghosts; The Art of Hung Liu. Exhibition catalog. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2013.