Review: In Hung Liu exhibition, Golden Gate serves as metaphor for immigrant experience

The opening of the exhibition “Hung Liu: Golden Gate” at the De Young Museum in San Francisco. Photo: Courtesy San Francisco Art Museums / Drew Altizer

The Golden Gate Bridge is synonymous with San Francisco. He is so local that we wear his image on tote bags and hang prints of it in our homes. But the bridge is also an international symbol of immigration connecting San Francisco to the world.

With the familiar cue like his subtitle, “Hung Liu: Golden Gate” opens Saturday, July 17 at the de Young Museum, with eight works by contemporary American artist of Chinese descent Hung Liu. The show invites us to reflect on migration, history, honor and memory. What does crossing a bridge mean? Whose story do we remember? For Liu, the answer is in his art: “The surface will be a memorial site.

In eight works hung in the assembly space of Wilsey Court, Liu grounds these larger questions in his own journey. Born in 1948 in Maoist China, Liu immigrated to California in 1984 to study at UC San Diego. Having taught at Mills College for several decades, she still resides in Oakland while exhibiting widely.

Hung Liu at the opening of “Hung Liu: Golden Gate” at the De Young Museum in San Francisco. Photo: Courtesy San Francisco Art Museums / Drew Altizer

Because the show is hooked a public space, access to the exhibition is free. Curator Janna Keegan and Liu came up with the migration theme shortly after deciding to use the space. Located at the crossroads of galleries, museum shop and café, Wilsey Court invites contemplation of migration.

“It’s like people passing by, going to other spaces, galleries,” Liu said. “There’s a staircase, all kinds of stuff, so what am I going to do?” I am focusing on migration. Keegan said, “The fact that it was an open public space was something that Hung was very excited about. … You can just walk in and see the extraordinary art of an extraordinary artist from the Bay Area.

Although small, the show appears large due to the large scale of the works. shown and their placement sounding the law courts second floor walls. Visible from the box office, a huge take on Liu’s classic 1988 the “Resident Alien” painting draws you into space (the original hangs in the San Jose Museum of Art). Printed on 77 panels of UV acrylic and measuring 28 feet tall, “Resident Alien II,” Liu’s version of his original Green Card, dominates the court. Additional artwork, cutouts of migrant workers, migrating animals, and a Chinese shrimp junk, the kind Chinese immigrants used in San Francisco Bay, float above you. Like a semi-memory story, migrating animals and humans haunt our space.

the term Golden Gate in the title of the show refers to the promises and contradictions of immigration. Liu describes the Chinese character for gate as “like two panels of an open, open or closed door.”

“Even in a country you have a door, sometimes physical, sometimes symbolic,” she said. “You have a door to connect with the outside world. For immigrants, you enter through a door, you enter a different country, a different territory.

“Resident Alien” by Hung Liu (1988). Oil on canvas, 60 by 90 inches. Photo: courtesy San Francisco Art Museums / Douglas Sandberg

The “Resident Alien II” the green card refers to this ambivalence. Under large capital letters indicating “RESIDENT ALIEN”, a sexist pejorative, “Cookie, Fortune” appears in place of the artist’s real name. In the painting, Liu changed her year of birth from 1948 to 1984, the year she immigrated. “A lot of new immigrants talk about starting a new life,” she said. “I have the impression that this year I start[ed] a completely different life here. A new life begins at this point. I am critical of the term “alien”, but also grateful for it. So it’s complicated.

Liu considers his own story to be linked to the story of migration in general. For the past several years, Liu has worked with the Dorothea Lange Photographic Archive at the Oakland Museum of California. “Plowboy”, “Corn Carrier” and “Girl With Sack” derive from Lange’s iconic portraits of migrant workers.

“American farmers, they remind me of Chinese peasants,” Liu said. “They were poor. When I was in the country, the children, as their faces were dirty, as they did not have enough clothes or food. I felt they are not too different. Race, skin color, continent different, but somehow humanity felt so connected. ”

Doing these people bright and colorful, and hanging them above our heads, Liu makes us see they like people. “These are not statistics” she said adding, “People should not forget them, do them, raise them to honor them, remember them.”

The unresolved question is, of course, the future: how will we welcome New immigrants? “The question is the American door,” she said. “Are we still open to the rest of the world?

“Hung Liu: the golden door”: 9.30am-5.15pm from Tuesday to Sunday. Until March 13, 2022. Free. Admission to the museum is $ 15; $ 12 for people 65 and over; $ 6 for students; free for those 17 and under. Advance tickets required. Free entry for Bay Area residents on Saturdays. De Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, SF 415-750-3600.

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