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Strange Fruit: New Paintings by Hung Liu on display at ASU Art Museum

January 07, 2002

TEMPE, Ariz. – An exhibition of 30 new works by painter Hung Liu will open at the ASU Art Museum on Jan. 26 and run through April 28. A free, public reception for Strange Fruit: New Paintings by Hung Liu will be attended by the artist and is scheduled for 7-9 p.m. on Feb. 1.

A slide lecture by the artist will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 31 in the Art Building, and Liu will give a gallery talk at noon on Feb. 1.

Liu’s new paintings, many of which will be shown for the first time in this exhibition, reflect her diverse personal history in their combination of styles. Exhibition curator Heather Lineberry said that Hung Liu’s experiences growing up during China’s Cultural Revolution and her move to this country in 1984 exhibit both adversity and perseverance.

“This history predetermines the layers of content and formal approaches found in her paintings, what she has called ‘pastiches of style and clashes of cultures,’” Lineberry said.
Liu’s formal training in Beijing permitted drawing only from life, forbidding even the use of photography to capture that life. It also strictly limited the way in which artists were permitted to paint. Liu has likened the constrained, figurative painting process to paint-by-numbers with rules as to anatomical dimensions and color combinations.

Liu, however, rebelled against these strict controls and even while in China she secretly used photography as an aid in her painting. When she was permitted to move to San Diego in 1984 to further her studies, Liu expanded her use of photographs, in her work. Her style also developed as she was able, for the first time, to give free reign to her creative impulses.

Liu’s fascination with history and photos, particularly with reclaiming the lost histories of nameless women, has been strongly influenced by the losses she and her own family suffered as she grew up. Her father was interned in labor camp when she was a baby and her family destroyed most of their family photos out of fear, because such personal items were forbidden during the Cultural Revolution.

During the past five years, Liu’s paintings have gained in complexity. Historic photographs from early and mid-20th century China have been her primary inspiration throughout her career. Yet her translation of these images has become more layered, ambiguous and sensuous.

“Liu samples freely from Eastern and Western, historic and contemporary practices. The paintings hover between realistic and abstract, narrative and symbolic, allowing for multiple interpretations by the viewer,” Lineberry said.

In many paintings, Liu explores representations of women. Her women are icons – prostitutes, brides, warriors, mothers – treated as individuals, rather than simply a nameless, insignificant part of history.

The women of Strange Fruit, painted in 2001, are based on photographs of Korean “comfort women” who were forced into service for Japanese soldiers during wartime. In Eight Portraits from Strange Fruit, Liu departs from the composition of the source photograph and memorializes the comfort women as individuals. The Japanese sword seen in the original photograph remains in the picture, yet the men are stricken from the image.

A free, public reception, attended by the artist, will be held from 7-9 p.m. on Feb. 1, in conjunction with the reception for Topsy Turvy: Sculpture by Alison Saar. The Herberger College School of Music’s African Drum Ensemble will provide music at the reception. Refreshments will be served.

A slide lecture by the artist will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 31 in the Art Building. For directions call the ASU Art Museum at the number listed below. Liu will also give a gallery talk at noon on Feb. 1.

The exhibition was co-curated and co-organized by the Boise Art Museum and will travel nationally. A catalogue for the exhibition is available in the ASU Art Museum store.

In Arizona, the exhibition and related programs are supported in part by Mikki and Stanley Weithorn; the Arizona Commission on the Arts, with funding from the State of Arizona and the National Endowment for the Arts; and the Friends of the ASU Art Museum. The catalogue was made possible by Rena Bransten and the Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco.

The ASU Art Museum is a division of The Katherine K. Herberger College of Fine Arts at Arizona State University. For more information, please call (480) 965-2787 or

When You Go:

Location: ASU Art Museum, Nelson Fine Arts Center, corner Mill Avenue and 10th Street, Tempe.
Date &Time: Strange Fruit: New Paintings by Hung Liu commences on Jan. 26 and runs through April 28.
A slide lecture by the artist will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 31 in the Art Building.
A free, public reception, attended by the artist, will be held from 7-9 p.m. on Feb. 1, in conjunction with the reception for Topsy Turvy: Sculpture by Alison Saar.
Parking: Free parking is available in ASU Art Museum-marked spaces at the south end of Tempe Center, located at the NE corner of Mill Ave. and 10th St. Visitors using museum spaces must sign in at the front desk in the lobby.
Phone: (480) 965-2787
Cost: Free 

Media Contact:
Jennifer Pringle