Art Market

A Chinese-American artist’s show in Beijing was cancelled due to Beijing’s censorship.

Christy Kuesel
Nov 20, 2019 11:06PM, via New York Times

An upcoming solo show of a U.S. artist’s works at Beijing’s UCCA Center for Contemporary Art has been cancelled after Chinese authorities refused to issue the necessary permits to transport works for the exhibition. The exhibition, “Hung Liu: Passer-by,” was to feature works by San Francisco-based artist Hung Liu, who is known for her paintings that reimagine historical photographs in a Socialist Realist style. She tackles themes of politics, gender, and memory in her work.

In a letter obtained and quoted by The Art Newspaper, Philip Tinari, UCCA director and co-curator of the now-cancelled exhibition, said:

There has been a tightening of the civil sphere in China in recent months. There has also been an increase in tension between Hung's native and adopted countries of China and the U.S. Topics that were once relatively open for discussion are now increasingly scrutinized. An exhibition that might have been greenlighted a few years ago—such as this one—must now be canceled.

The Beijing Municipal Bureau of Culture must approve all works in Beijing exhibitions. After months of going back and forth with the bureau, the UCCA received notice that they would not receive the necessary approval to import works for Liu’s show. The news comes amid growing tensions in China’s cultural sector; a Shanghai outpost of Paris’s Centre Pompidou was inaugurated weeks ago amid reports that Chinese authorities had censored works in its inaugural exhibition.

According to the New York Times, one work that authorities specifically censored in Liu’s show was a 2011 painting of schoolgirls wearing gas masks, based on a World War II-era photograph of an air raid drill.

“The message is antiwar so I thought it was O.K., but when I talked with my Chinese artist friends about it, they just said one word: Hong Kong,” Liu told the Times, referring to the ongoing protests in Hong Kong, where protesters have been banned from wearing face masks, but many continue to do so anyway.

Liu told TAN that she has shown works in Beijing and Shanghai before, including works that were going to be included in her UCCA show. The artist was born in China and was sent to complete manual labor in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution. She moved to the United States in 1984. She will be the subject of a retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. in 2021.

Christy Kuesel
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