November 2014

September 5 – October 25, 2014

HUNG LIU: Tilling the Soil

View the digital catalog

Opening First Friday, September 5, 2014 | 7-9 p.m.

View the review in the Kansas City Star


“Tilling the Soil,” a selection of paintings from Hung Liu‘s personal collection, dating from 1993 to the present, is intended both as a parallel exhibition to “Summoning Ghosts: The Art of Hung Liu” at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and – very importantly – as an homage to the late Byron Cohen, whose enthusiasm for Liu’s work over the years has done much to establish her reputation in Kansas City. The fact that the Kemper holds the largest collection of Liu’s dramatic and historic art is due in large part to Byron’s upbeat faith in her work.

Showing at the Sherry Leedy Gallery, the paintings in “Tilling the Soil” depict subjects that have spanned Liu’s career, including young Chinese prostitutes from the early 20th century, modern young women from the 1920s, peasants working in the countryside, prisoners, adults longing for the past and day-dreaming children. Together, these paintings – along with new mixed-media works from Trillium Graphics – capture the courageous, historical, and often melancholic gaze toward the homeland that characterizes Liu’s sensibility as an artist.

Born in 1948 and sent to the countryside for four years during the Cultural Revolution, Liu, who emigrated to the United States in 1984, came of age in China before there was a Chinese avant-garde. Older than all but a few of the first generation of contemporary artists there, she represents a perspective based in personal and family experience that takes in the whole of post-revolutionary Chinese history (that is, since the invention of photography).

Mostly known for paintings based on historical photographs of nineteenth-century and pre-revolutionary China, including images of prostitutes, refugees, street performers, soldiers, and so forth, Liu also washes (and sometimes washes away) her subjects with veils of linseed oil that, as she once remarked, “both preserve and destroy the image.” Preferring to work from black-and-white photographs that are grainy and difficult to see, Liu liberates her subjects from the gray tones of the past by bringing them vividly to life as painted images. In the process of turning old photographs into new paintings, she often inserts traditional motifs from Chinese “bird and flower” painting, Buddhist iconography, or calligraphy, as if to comfort the cataclysms of 20th century China with the wisdom of its own ancient past.

With “Tilling the Soil,” Liu returns to works that have nurtured her over the years –
including three brand-new paintings – offering them now in memory of her long-time art dealer, Byron Cohen, one of Kansas City’s true enthusiasts for art, for artists, and for the
community he helped cultivate.

– Jeff Kelley

Gallery Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 11-5 p.m. & by appointment.
For past exhibitions, please visit our archive.