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The Liu Shiming Art Gallery Debuts Inaugural Exhibition in NYC

The Liu Shiming Art Gallery Debuts Inaugural Exhibition in NYC

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Steps away from The Morgan Library & Museum, a new art gallery has joined the scene: The Liu Shiming Art Gallery. The gallery recently announced it’s inaugural exhibition, From The Beginning: Sculpture by Liu Shiming. For those who may not be familiar Chinese sculptor Liu Shiming, the gallery is connected to the Liu Shiming Art Foundation and is part of a broader effort to share the artist’s work and humanist philosophy to a larger audience. The mini-retrospective (which is on view through the summer) features over thirty-five pieces that demonstrate Shiming’s stature as a leading figure in modern Chinese sculpture.

As one of China’s most acclaimed artists, Shiming (1926-2010) was part of the evolution of Modern Chinese sculpture, a period of time when Western styles began to influence centuries-old traditions. Recognition of Shiming’s unique talent came early. Despite his success, he made the decision to follow his heart by moving to the countryside of China where he turned his attention to capturing the simple moments of daily life. First, he moved to Henan and then the Hebei province, where he lived and worked among villagers and farmers, fishermen and roving performers, rural workers and river rafters. During this time, Shiming developed his nuanced visual language, incorporating elements of modernism within traditional techniques and imagery.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Curatorial Director Fran Kaufman to learn more about the gallery’s mission as well as why this gallery feels so strongly about posthumously keeping Shiming’s work and legacy on the radar.

Opening reception of From the Beginning. All photos courtesy of the Liu Shiming Art Gallery.

The Liu Shiming Foundation was founded in 2021 to carry on the legacy of acclaimed Chinese sculpture Liu Shiming. The foundation continues to channel Shiming’s passion for the arts through grants and fiscal support for emerging artists and art students. Now, The Liu Shiming Art gallery has come on the scene with a space solely dedicated to the work of Liu Shiming. Can you share a bit more about the goals for the gallery and what we can expect from you in the future?

The gallery is primarily dedicated to expanding the legacy of Liu Shiming by sharing his work with a wider public.  We officially opened March 12th with over 100 invited guests from across the art world, and that is just the beginning.  Our initial plans include a series of thematic shows focusing on different aspects of Liu Shiming’s work, and exploring his philosophy of making art along with his connection to the greater art world. Future exhibitions will include other artists—both established and emerging—who have a connection to his work, conceptually, visually or culturally. 

Other plans include a bi-monthly curator’s tour beginning in May, and a series of informative lectures, panels, and/or screenings that expand the dialogue around Liu Shiming and his work.

Portrait of Liu Shiming.

As the curator of the Liu Shiming Art Gallery, how were you introduced to the Liu Shiming Art Foundation and his art? 

About two years ago, I was introduced to the Foundation by a colleague. My connection started as a consultancy: I curated a solo exhibition of Liu Shiming’s work at RIVAA Gallery on Roosevelt Island and organized a panel on the value of bringing international artwork to an American audience. The belief that art can be a bridge to understanding is core to the Foundation’s mission, and was also important to the artist.

Folk Singer

The inaugural exhibition, From the Beginning, is a great introduction to Shiming’s work as well his passion to capture the human spirit (as evidenced by the various sculptures of his grandson, Mengmeng). In total, the exhibition contains 35 pieces. How were these pieces chosen? Have some of these never been seen before? 

The selected sculptures literally start from the beginning, with a bronze version of his earliest known work “Measuring Land”, which he created in 1950  during his final year as a student at the prestigious Central Academy of Fine Art (CAFA). Among the first works allowed to travel abroad from China, “Measuring Land” is now part of the collection of the Czech National Museum in Prague. From there, we have chosen representative works from different periods of Liu Shiming’s artistic life. They reflect his interest in ancient artifacts from the Han and other dynasties, his fascination with local folklore, his deep respect for working people— for farmers and peasants and roving performers—and his abiding love for his own culture.  His empathy, his touch, his power of observation and his interest in the spirit of his subjects rather than the literal are evident throughout his work.  

Most of the sculptures in this exhibition have previously been shown, but this is the first time they are on public display for an extended period, and in a gallery located in the heart of Manhattan. The exhibition also features 16 of his sketches, including four that have never been shown before outside of China. They provide enormous insight into his view of the world and his way of working.  

Dream to Fly, 1982

“Liu Shiming worked in whatever material was readily at hand, creating mostly small-scale, intimate, tactile sculptures – you feel his hands forming the work, marvel at the detail and compassion he conveys in a 9-inch-high sculpture like Performer Backstage, where we see an opera singer holding her child, a teapot and cat beside her. His unerring ability to capture the spirit rather than the literal is evident throughout his work.”

Fran Kaufman

A few years ago, Hyperallergic covered a retrospective called Passages at Queens College’s Godwin-Ternbach Museum. Prolific art writer Richard Vine also has a forthcoming monograph on Shiming’s work. I’m curious to hear, why don’t you think Shiming has received as much acclaim in the U.S. as he had in China? Is it one of the galleries larger goals to educate the public at large about Shiming’s works? 

Liu Shiming never left China.  His work is highly acclaimed in his home country, including a museum completely dedicated to his sculpture, but the work never traveled beyond China’s borders until fairly recently. Now that people have begun to see and engage with his work, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Sharing Liu Shiming’s work with a broader global audience remains at the heart of our mission. 

Self-Portrait (Standing) (1989)

In preparing for this interview, a lot of art writers (including Richard) have mentioned that it’s hard to classify Shiming’s work, and to place it into one category. How would you classify Shiming’s work? 

One of the fascinating things about Liu Shiming’s work is precisely that it is not easily categorized. He absorbed many different ideas in order to synthesize his own vision.  Liu Shiming was among the first generation of sculptors to graduate from CAFA, where he was trained in traditional Chinese techniques and was also exposed to theories of French modernism. He worked closely with ancient Chinese artifacts at various museums, honoring their historical and cultural importance. Liu also spent 15 years in the provinces of Hebei and Henan, immersing himself in the life and folklore of small towns and villages. All of these influences helped to shape his humanist view of art, and can be seen as we trace his trajectory over some 60 years of making art.

Answai Waist Drummer, 1989

What other programming or exhibitions can we expect to see?

Starting in May, there will be twice-monthly curator-led tours, open to the public and available for private groups.  I am also pleased to announce that Richard Vine will give a special lecture this spring on Liu Shiming’s place in history. Additional plans for future programs and exhibitions will be announced shortly on our website:

Groups from universities, museums and other institutions are welcome, and we invite anyone interested in art to visit our gallery for a unique perspective on what is currently happening on the NY art scene.

From the Beginning is on view until August at 15 East 40th Street, 5th Floor, 11AM – 5PM, Monday through Friday.

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