Hung Liu: Portraits of Promised Lands

August 27, 2021 - May 30, 2022

The story of America as a destination for the homeless and hungry of the world is not only a myth. It is a story of desperation, of sadness, of uncertainty, of leaving your home. It is also a story of determination, and—more than anything—of hope.

— Hung Liu, 2017

Hung Liu (1948–2021) was a contemporary Chinese-born American artist, whose multilayered paintings established new frameworks for understanding portraiture in relation to time, memory, and history. Often sourcing her subjects from photographs, Liu elevated overlooked individuals by amplifying the stories of those who have historically been invisible or unheard. Having lived through war, political revolution, exile, and displacement, she offered a complex picture of an Asian Pacific American experience. Her portraits speak powerfully to those seeking a better life, in the United States and elsewhere. Hung Liu: Portraits of Promised Lands will be first major exhibition of the artist's work on the East Coast. This is also the first time that a museum will focus on Liu’s portraiture.


oil sketch of several Asian girls


Take a virtual tour of selected works from the exhibition, narrated by curator, Dorothy Moss.

Tour: Hung Liu: Portraits of Promised Lands


Catalogue cover featuring a painting of several Asian women and girls

Exhibition Catalogue  

Hung Liu: Portraits of Promised Lands

Hung Liu: Portraits of Promised Lands presents the stunning work of this contemporary Chinese American artist who blended painting and photography to offer new frameworks for understanding portraiture in relation to time, memory, and history. Often working from photographs, Hung Liu (1948-2021) used portraiture to elevate overlooked subjects, amplifying the stories of those who had historically been invisible or unheard. This richly illustrated book examines six decades of Liu’s painting, photography, and drawing. Author Dorothy Moss illuminates the importance of family photographs in Liu’s work; Nancy Lim examines the origins of Liu’s artistic practice; Lucy R. Lippard explores issues of identity and multiculturalism; and Elizabeth Partridge focuses on Liu’s recent series based on Dorothea Lange’s Depression-era photographs. Philip Tinari, along with artists Amy Sherald and Carrie Mae Weems, among others, conveys Liu’s impact on contemporary art. Having lived through war, political revolution, exile, and displacement, Liu painted a complex picture of an Asian Pacific American experience. Her portraits speak powerfully to those seeking a better life, in the United States and elsewhere.

Dorothy Moss is curator of painting and sculpture at the National Portrait Gallery and coordinating curator of the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative.

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PORTRAITS podcast: Unforgetting History

After having to burn her family pictures during the Cultural Revolution, Chinese-American artist Hung Liu treasured old photographs all the more. In fact, they were foundational to her work as an artist. She described her portraits in terms of a memorial site for people forgotten to history-- comfort women, farm workers, refugees.

As the Gallery launches a retrospective of her work, we trace Hung's life through some of the images she collected and created, from her rendering of a 'green card' in which she renamed herself 'Fortune Cookie,' to her painting commemorating the violent Tiananmen Square crackdown.

woman standing in her studio
Hung Liu in her studio with Rat Year 2020 [detail] | Photo by John Janca

 

 

Hung Liu: Portraits of Promised Lands has been made possible
through the generous support of the following donors:

 

John and Louise Bryson
Robert and Arlene Kogod

Anonymous
Fred M. Levin, the Shenson Foundation, in memory of Nancy Livingston Levin and Ben and A. Jess Shenson
E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation

Haynes and Boone Foundation, Purvi and Bill Albers, Susan and David McCombs
Roselyne Chroman Swig
Frances Stevenson Tyler
Robert and Jane Clark
Covington & Burling
Lorrie and Richard Greene
Koret Foundation

Rena Bransten Gallery
Turner Carroll Gallery, Santa Fe, NM
Nancy and Peter Gennet
Maryellen and Frank Herringer
Nancy Hoffman Gallery
Gail Severn Gallery
Mr. Charles Ziegler and Ms. Conan Putnam
Mr. Walter Maciel
Lisa Goodman and Josef Vascovitz

This project received Federal support from the Asian Pacific American Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, and support from the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative.
Additional support was provided by the American Portrait Gala Endowment.

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http://womenshistory.si.edu/donors