Remembering Hung Liu: OMCA staff stories
Even if you didn’t personally know beloved Oakland-based artist, Hung Liu (1948 – 2021), there was something that felt so familiar about her. Liu’s artwork explored themes of identity, the immigrant experience, and American culture with such vulnerability and compassion that it felt like a close friend was confiding their innermost emotions to you as you gazed at the canvas. By the end, you felt more open to sharing your heart as well.
While we continue to mourn Liu’s transition, we’re warmed by the moments and memories we shared at OMCA through our long and treasured history with her. Visitors have come to pay their respects and share their own memories of Liu at OMCA’s memorial installation, which features four of her works from OMCA’s collection in the Gallery of California Art.
Many of us at OMCA had the privilege of personally working with the late artist. Below is a collection of stories about Hung Liu shared by OMCA staff members. Perhaps the best way to sum up Liu’s impact on OMCA staff, as one person put it: “She always made me feel like her friend.”
Meredith Patute, OMCA Registrar: Alicia Goode and I went to Hung’s studio collecting the Dorothea Lange portrait she gifted to the museum. Hung always loved to document things with selfies. I’m so grateful to have this one of her in her studio.
OMCA Staff Member: I discovered Hung Liu’s work when I was nestled inside a campus library in Auburn, Alabama. To avoid the SEC Football game-day crowds, I used to find refuge in the library and my favorite section included a hefty inventory of fine art books. When I discovered Hung Liu, I photocopied her paintings, cut them, and pasted them into my sketchbook. I shared her work with my Studio Art classmates and she served as a source of artistic inspiration for us.
Fast forward 10 years later, I am working my first week as an OMCA employee at Ziggurat, OMCA’s gala. Someone pointed Hung Liu out to me, and I had no idea she was going to be there. I was starstruck! I didn’t want to bother her, so I didn’t approach her. I quietly admired her glamour and charisma just as much as I admired her work in that art book on that autumn day in Alabama. It was such a treat to be in her presence at OMCA.
Anna Bunting, OMCA Registrar: I was lucky enough to work with Hung Liu during her many visits to the Dorothea Lange archive. As I would walk her through the building to get to the collections area, we would have to stop every few steps as she ran into OMCA colleagues that she had worked with over the years. She would stop, give hugs, and make jokes. Hung’s warm personality was contagious and it was clear how happy everyone was to have run into her.
During her visits to the archive I sat with her while she worked her way through many pages of contact sheets, gathering research for future paintings. Sometimes she would exclaim loudly and excitedly when she found a face or a place she recognized from past research, or when something really caught her eye. Other times she was quiet and focused, taking notes and searching the many pages of images for the right inspiration. She would often end her visit by taking a selfie with the OMCA staff who had helped her that day.
Hung was a joy to work with. She was funny and smart; kind and extremely generous.
I loved when she shared photos of her in-progress paintings based on the Lange images we looked at together. She once brought me warm gloves to wear while I worked because the climate control in the office made it very cold. She always made me feel like her friend.
Remembering Artist Hung Liu
October 1, 2021–October 31, 2022
Join OMCA as we honor the life and legacy of beloved artist, Oakland resident, and cultural bridge-builder, Hung Liu, who passed away on August 7, 2021. Drawing from our collection, this newly-organized installation features four of Liu’s works in our Gallery of California Art, offering a quiet setting for visitors to enjoy and appreciate her work, as well as space for remembrance and reflection, including opportunities to contribute memories of Liu.
OMCA has a long and treasured history with Liu, from early acquisitions of her work, to our partnership in commissioning the installation at the Oakland Airport, Going Away, Coming Home. In 2013, the Museum featured a survey of her works in the exhibition Summoning Ghosts: The Art of Hung Liu, which explored the evolution of Liu’s artistic practice through her paintings, personal ephemera such as photographs, sketch books, and more. This new installation includes the works Still Point (1998) and Heroine of Gu Yanxiu (2012), as well as Bindlestiff (2015) and Portrait of Dorothea Lange (2017) inspired by the photography of Dorothea Lange.