Questions from the Sky: New Work by Hung Liu

  • A photograph of red cylindrical candle with a single burning flame that sits at the center of a black background.

    Hung Liu

    Still from Red Candle, 2013

    Video projection

    Dimensions variable

    Courtesy the artist and Bransten Gallery

  • Thick black lines form a stick figure person. To the right appears to be two people looking over a crib or a face.

    Questions from the Sky in Chinese calligraphy courtesy Hung Liu.

  • Hung Liu

    Silver River (detail), 2003

    Acrylic paint on drywall (site-specific mural)

    Courtesy of the artist and Rena Brasten Gallery

  • Hung Liu

    Still from Between Sky and Earth, 2013

    Video projection

    Dimensions variable

    Courtesy the artist and Bransten Gallery

    Hung Liu’s remarkable and lush paintings (based on historical photographs of China) have made her one of the most beloved artists represented in SJMA’s collection—and one of the most important Chinese-American artists working today. Hung Liu has long paid witness to the tribulations of everyday people, past and present, and their hidden stories of social injustice. She grapples with issues of self, society, and politics—as well as the challenge of reconciling disparate cultures.

    This exhibition showcases surprising new, intimate work by Liu. She contemplates the cycles of life, death, and memory in an installation of three videos entitled Black Rain, Candle, and Between Sky and Earth (2013). The videos are based on snapshots made daily with her iPhone over the course of the year following her mother’s death. These simple images of burning candles; fallen birds and deer; Buddha’s hand citrus fruit; and cloud formations poetically reflect Liu’s contemplative state of mind. For Liu, the images provoke questions of how we remember those who have passed. Liu will also create sitespecific wall paintings in the gallery using imagery from the videos alongside her signature circles and drips. The installation is a meditation on the universal circle of birth, life, and death—on nature’s mortality and immortality.

    Born in Changchun in 1948, a year before the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Liu experienced the the Cultural Revolution first hand. She came to the United States in 1984 to attend the University of California, San Diego. One of the first people from mainland China to study abroad and pursue an art career, she moved to Northern California in 1990 to join the faculty at Mills College, Oakland, where she is a professor. 

    Questions from the Sky is SJMA’s contribution to a Bay Area tribute to Hung Liu’s work that began with Mills College Art Museum’s presentation of Hung Liu: Offerings (January 23–March 17, 2013) and the Oakland Museum of California’s Summoning Ghosts: The Art of Hung Liu (through June 30, 2013).

    The Making of Hung Liu's Silver River

    See artist Hung Liu paint the mural Silver River (2013) in this timelapse video. Liu spent a week in May 2013 creating the gallery length painting for the exhibition Questions from the Sky: New Work by Hung Liu at SJMA. A meditation on the fleeting nature of life and death, the work itself is ephemeral by design: it will disappear forever when the exhibition ends on September 29, 2013.

    Hung Liu Performance

    Artist Hung Liu shares her first-ever performance art piece, Four Cantos. Liu performed Four Cantos at the San Jose Museum of Art on June 20, 2013.


    • Doris and Alan Burgess
    • Myra Reinhard Family Foundation