The exhilarating survey exhibition of renowned sculptor Liu Shiming, “Sculpting the Chinese Spirit: Vitality in Stillness,” is now open at Gallery RIVAA, 527 Main Street on Roosevelt Island in New York City.
The highly anticipated exhibition features a carefully selected collection from the roughly 2,000 works Liu created in his lifetime, including his monumental sculpture Cutting Through Mountains to Bring in Water (collected by the National Art Museum of China), Boatmen on the Yellow River (collected by the Ministry of Culture of the People’s Republic of China), Ansai Waist Drum (collected by National Museum of China), Performer in Backstage (collected by National Center for the Performing Arts), and Measuring Land (collected by Czech National Museum). Attendees leaving comments after viewing the exhibition “Sculpting the Chinese Spirit: Vitality in Stillness” at RIVAA.
As one of the most accomplished sculptors in modern China, Liu broke the mold by
incorporating folk tradition into contemporary pieces. His artwork often depicted ordinary people he had known; boatmen, farmers, herders, women, children, etc. Liu vividly portrayed their expressions, personalities, and scenes of their daily routines–an intimate and empathetic depiction of ordinary life.
Liu Shiming was born in Tianjin in 1926. He came from a highly educated family, and received a formal education in traditional Chinese culture. In 1946, Liu was admitted to the National School of Arts in BeiPing (precursor to the Central Academy of Fine Arts), where he was classically trained in fine sculpture.
As one of the first sculptors trained after the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Liu Shiming was afforded new and exciting opportunities to exchange ideas with the rest of the world. His mentors–Wang Linyi, Hua Tianyou, and Zeng Zhushao–were all Chinese sculptors who studied in France and were thus able to pass on their solid background in Western art education.
In 1950, Liu’s graduate project, Measuring Land, became one of the first sculptures to be sent abroad for an exhibition after the founding of the People’s Republic of China (the artwork is now part of the permanent collection of the Czech National Museum). In 1953, as the associate of Mr. Liu Kaiqu and Mr. Wang Bingzhao, Liu Shiming participated in the creation of the sculptures in the monument to the heroes of the people in Tiananmen. He assisted in drafting the well-known sculpture, Jintian Uprising. In 1955, Liu Shiming was transferred to the Chinese Sculpture Factory (precursor to the Sculpture Creation Institute of Central Academy of Fine Arts) and created various sculptures for the city of Beijing,
including the sculpture of the Chinese People’s Revolutionary Military Museum Square as well as the main sculpture of the Beijing Workers’ Stadium. In 1959, Liu’s work, Cutting Through Mountains to Bring in Water, represented China in attending the Socialist Exhibitions in the former Soviet Union.
1961 marked a great change for Liu, he left Beijing and spent several years working and living in the rural Henan and Hebei provinces. At the time, he worked successively at the Art Department of the Kaifeng Normal School (precursor to the Art Department of Henan University), Baoding Cultural Art Museum in Hebei, and the Hebei Art Museum. During this time, Liu engaged with working-class people’s daily life, immersing himself in local customs and history. He learned more about different people’s philosophical perspectives and began to reflect on humanity. By doing so, Liu’s artworks underwent a significant shift, starting to explore the spiritual world of Chinese people. The philosophical depth and depictions of genuine human warmth have since become some of the most talked about aspects of his artworks.
In 1974, Liu retired from teaching early and moved back to Beijing. He then worked in the Chinese History Museum (precursor to the National Museum of China) for more than ten years and participated in restoring cultural relics. This experience allowed him to interact directly with numerous original works of traditional Chinese sculpture, which greatly influenced his later creative pieces. In 1980, Liu returned to the Sculpture Department of the Central Academy of Fine Arts and became a lecturer there. Throughout his career, his teaching experiences nurtured his creative passion and genius for philosophizing.
During his lifetime, Liu was also a member of the Chinese Artists Association and a member of the China Sculpture Institute. He passed away in 2010.
Liu’s artwork has since been exhibited internationally; in 2019, his work was displayed in New York and Washington D.C as part of a traveling exhibition. During the Chinese New Year in 2020, a public exhibition of Liu’s artwork was held at Oculus in The World Trade Center in New York, which received an overwhelmingly positive reaction.
With the exhibition, Sculpting the Chinese Spirit: Vitality in Stillness, the organizer would like to share the meaningful connotation of Liu’s artwork with visitors from all around the world. At the opening ceremony of the exhibition, Liu Wei, son of Liu Shiming; Linda Lee, Founder of Creative Cities; Tadeusz Sudol, President of RIVAA; and the exhibition curator, Fran Kaufman, discussed the humanistic values embodied in Liu’s sculptures, and how to appreciate Liu’s artwork from a contemporary perspective.
The exhibition is organized by the Liu Shiming Art Foundation in collaboration with the RIVAA, theBlanc Art Space, and the Liu Shiming Sculpture Museum at the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA). Fran Kaufman is the exhibition curator.