Hung Liu Reflects on Migration in de Young's Wilsey Court

Hung Liu, "Resident Alien". Collection of the San Jose Museum of Art Gift of the Lipman Family Foundation © Hung Liu. Image © San Jose Museum of Art. Photograph by Douglas Sandberg

Hung Liu: Golden Gate

July 17, 2021–January 2, 2022
de Young museum 

SAN FRANCISCO — The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (the “Museums”) are pleased to present Golden Gate, a new installation by renowned artist Hung Liu. The site-specific installation, which will combine new and existing work to highlight international and domestic narratives of migration, will greet museum visitors in the de Young museum’s Wilsey Court. Based in Oakland, Liu is one of the most important Chinese-born artists working in the US today. Reimagining some of her most iconic paintings through the lens of her personal history, she places herself among and celebrates the migrants who arrived in California from both land and sea. 

Born in Changchun, China in 1948, Liu grew up under the Maoist regime. Trained in the Socialist Realist style of painting, she elevates the subjects of archival photographs, re-creating them in the grand scale and lyrical style of history painting. Challenging primary sources, officially sanctioned documents, and revisionist accounts, Liu foregrounds displaced and wandering people frequently left out of traditional historical narratives and resurfaces stories lost to time. 

In imagining Golen Gate, Liu was inspired by migrants who, like herself, came to California and became an indelible part of its history, society, and culture. Liu’s personal history anchors the installation, with its central feature being a massive reinvention of her painting Resident Alien (1988). Flanking and in dialogue with the central piece, will  be works by Liu drawing parallels between the journeys of the Americans who came from China with migrant workers captured in the photography of Dorothea Lange. Liu breathes life back into these faces through her interpretation of Lange’s work, engaging the source photographs with dynamism and color. 

“Hung Liu is uniquely positioned to tell the stories of immigrants to the United States. In 2020, she celebrated the milestone of having lived an equal number of years in China and the United States. As one of the foremost painters in the United States, Liu is a testament to the fact that our brightest citizens are often born under foreign skies,” states Janna Keegan, Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art and Programming at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Hung Liu: Golden Gate will be the latest project to be presented within the framework of the Museums’ Contemporary Art Program, which presents the work of living artists in dialogue with the Museums’ unique buildings and permanent collections. The installation marks Liu’s return to the de Young Museum. In 1994 her installation of 200,000 fortune cookies “Jiu Jin Shan (Old Gold Mountain)” which referenced the toil and hope for material prosperity of Chinese immigrants who built the railroads supporting the West Coast was exhibited at the museum.

Hung Liu: Golden Gate is organized by Janna Keegan, Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art and Programming at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. The installation will be on view from July 17, 2021 through January 2, 2022 at the de Young museum in San Francisco.

About Hung Liu

Hung Liu was born in Changchun, China in 1948, and studied mural painting as a graduate student at the Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing, before immigrating to the US in 1984 to attend the University of California, San Diego. Over her long career, Liu’s practice has spanned painting, printmaking, and large-scale installation. 

Liu’s works have been exhibited extensively and collected by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, and the Los Angeles County Museum, among others. Portraits of Promised Lands, 1968–2020; a retrospective of her work will open at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Fall 2021, marking the first solo exhibition by an Asian American woman at the museum. A two time recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in painting, Liu also received a Lifetime Achievement Award in Printmaking from the Southern Graphics Council International in 2011. Liu currently lives in Oakland, California and is Professor Emerita at Mills College. 

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Contemporary Art at the de Young museum
Overseen by Claudia Schmuckli, the Museums’ contemporary art program launched in 2016 to present the work of living artists in dialogue with the Museums’ unique buildings and permanent collections. In the program’s first four years, installations by Carsten Nicolai/Alva Noto, Hilary Lloyd, Leonardo Drew, DIS, Ranu Mukherjee, and Matt Mullican transformed the de Young’s Wilsey Court. At the Legion of Honor, Urs Fischer, Sarah Lucas, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Julian Schnabel, and Alexandre Singh each presented exhibitions in dialogue with the architecture and the collection of works by Auguste Rodin. The latest contemporary art exhibition Uncanny Valley: Being Human in the Age of AI is on view at the de Young museum through June 2021.

Exhibition Organization
Hung Liu: Golden Gate is organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. 

Major Support: Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation. Generous Support: Lipman Family Foundation, McManis Wigh China Foundation, Rena Bransten Gallery, and Turner Carroll Gallery.

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s Contemporary Arts Program is made possible by Presenting Sponsor the Lisa & Douglas Goldman Fund. Significant support is provided by The Harris Family and the Vance Wall Foundation. Additional support is provided by Joachim and Nancy Hellman Bechtle, Jeffrey N. Dauber and Marc A. Levin, Shaari Ergas, Katie Hagey & Jill Hagey in memory of their mother, Mary Beth Hagey, Kaitlyn and Mike Krieger, Lore Harp McGovern, Jessica and Jason Moment, Katie Schwab Paige and Matt Paige, Mr. and Mrs. Charles R. Schwab, David and Roxanne Soward, Gwynned Vitello, Zlot Buell + Associates, and the Contemporary Support Council of the Fine Arts Museums.

Visiting \ de Young
Hung Liu: Golden Gate will be included in general admission to the de Young museum. The de Young Museum is open Tue - Sun 9.30 am - 5.15 pm. For more information, please visit

About the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco oversee the de Young museum, located in Golden Gate Park, and the Legion of Honor, in Lincoln Park. It is the largest public arts institution in San Francisco, and one of the most visited arts institutions in the United States.

The de Young originated from the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition in Golden Gate Park and was established as the Memorial Museum in 1895. It was later renamed in honor of Michael H. de Young, who spearheaded its creation. The present copper-clad landmark building, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, opened in October 2005. Reflecting an active conversation among cultures, perspectives, and time periods, the collections on view include American painting, sculpture, and decorative arts from the 17th to the 21st centuries; arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas; costume and textile arts; and international modern and contemporary art.

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