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Liu Dahong: Immortal Red

Exhibition details

Opening / Event Date:
7 November, 2019
6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Closing / End Date:
4 January, 2020
Event Category:
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Liu Dahong: Immortal Red

Artist’s Reception: 7 November 2019 (Thursday), 6–8 pm

Hanart TZ Gallery: 401 Pedder Building, 12 Pedder Street, Central, Hong Kong

Exhibition Period: 7 November 2019 to 4 January 2020

Hanart TZ Gallery is pleased to announce the opening of Liu Dahong’s solo exhibition “Immortal Red”, taking place on 7 November 2019. The exhibition will run through 4 January 2020.


In spring this year, Liu Dahong completed his artist residence, “Painting in China Today: the Art of Liu Dahong”, at Jesus College in the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.


Living with History

The motto of Liu Dahong’s Duo Hundred Studio is taken from Chairman Mao’s famous admonition: “Let A Hundred Flowers Bloom, Let a Hundred Schools of Thought Contend.” The political movements that took place in the Mao era, which were the most radical form of politics of China’s past century of revolutions, have been absorbed into the methodology of Liu’s seemingly politically retrograde art studio. This year Liu Dahong is celebrating his studio’s 30th anniversary, and his celebration brings to mind the centenary of an earlier ‘cultural revolution’ that predated Mao’s by almost fifty years: the May Fourth Movement of 1919. While to all appearances the Duo Hundred Studio seems completely out of touch with today’s global world, Liu Dahong has in fact not only continuously refreshed Mao’s old slogans with contemporary critique, he has also found favour in a very fashionable pursuit, which is to ground global concerns in local historical experience, thereby giving both spatial and temporal coordinates to cultural contemporaneity.


The Century of Revolution broke the back of China’s proverbial historical continuity, and has also caused China’s current cultural anxiety. One may find consolation in the knowledge that cultural memory never truly becomes lost, even though revival depends to a great extent on serendipity and creative genius. Therefore, the challenge for cultural workers emerging in the aftermath of great upheavals is to re-constitute broken memories and a shattered cultural cosmos.  Liu Dahong brings to the situation his own wild enthusiasm and untenable ideas, by matching wordplay with historical fact, promising political incorrectness when caution should have been the way. Precisely as result of this indiscretion, Liu Dahong has maintained a channel of communication between pre-modern China and contemporary times. Through him we are now fortunate to be in the possession of a personalised mythology as well as a dramatised historical saga.


The hexagram ‘ge’ (conventionally, and erroneously, translated into English as ‘revolution’) from the Book of Change tells us that at times of ‘ge’ the great man undergoes a ‘tiger-change’ while the gentleman undergoes a ‘leopard-change’, for the purpose of establishing both an operational cosmic calendar and seasonal regularity. At the same time, the ordinary folk pursue ‘art’ in order to fulfil the need for mythology and lore. The meeting ground of these two dynamics is the common mission to repair the disrupted workings of heaven and earth, and fulfil the need to make sense of disjointed historical times by bringing them into coherent civilizational narratives.


For this exhibition, while he revisits the past century of revolutions, Liu Dahong brings back the Red Immortals to quell wayward demons and bless the troubled streets of Hong Kong.


And thus Liu Dahong offers his Prayer of Red Immortals:


The numeral 9 spells trouble for the Middle Kingdom,

Uprightness free from regret.

Red Immortals offer a spell to quell Hong Kong’s woes,

Calendars Red and White teach the complementary powers of yin and yang.

At Pedder set an altar of purgation, and pray for peaceful Hills and calm Seas.

LIU Dahong (b.1962)


Liu Dahong was born in 1962 in the city of Qingdao, Shandong province. He studied oil painting at the Shandong University of the Arts and at Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts (now the China Academy of Art) in Hangzhou, where he was selected to participate in a master class taught by the seminal painter Zhou Wouki.


Liu first came to prominence in the late 1980s with his vivid, deftly executed and bitingly satirical versions of ‘history paintings’, in which he uses stylistic references from classic paintings of both the Western and Chinese traditions to chronicle, evaluate and sometimes lampoon social, political and cultural ‘legends’, particularly of the Cultural Revolution and post-Cultural Revolution period. In his own inimitable way, Liu Dahong opens up a new pathway for illuminating and evaluating the deeper significance of the political ideology of an era.


In creating his own unique painting language, Liu also incorporates the folkloric visual vernacular of his boyhood home in Shandong province, providing a meticulous and complex representation of the local life and his own childhood memories.


Liu’s early painting series Four Seasons, completed in 1991, brought him wide recognition when it was featured in the international travelling exhibition China’s New Art, Post-1989 (1993-1997) and in the intervening years he has become one of the most prominent painters of his generation.


Liu’s 20-set painting, Sacrificial Altar (2000), brought the artist’s uncanny ability to incorporate and transform diverse languages and historical pasts to another level: basing its formal elements on the famous Ghent Altarpiece in Belgium which features the masterwork of Dutch painting, Adoration of The Mystic Lamb by the van Eyck brothers, Liu’s own version provides a kind of ‘cosmic diagramme’ of Communist ideology in a manner that exposes the symbolic link between European religion and its modern incarnation in political ideology. In the past decade Liu has further explored this ideological terrain in works that are both visually playful and subversively incisive.


Liu Dahong is also a brilliant satirical writer, and occasionally likes to present his painting catalogues as ‘textbooks’ in which his personal text narratives accompany the painting as supplementary commentaries. His works have been frequently featured in exhibitions and biennales internationally and are in many important institutional and private collections.


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