Met in Shanghai

Exhibition Dates: 2019.06.01-30

Ann Niu, a native of Shanghai, went to Japan to study at the prestigious Musashino Fine Art University. After graduation, she started working in art and design and spent some time in Korea. As she moved to the USA, she started to focus exclusively on her art. Since her return to Shanghai in 2000, she established a permanent residency and devoted her time to painting.

Ann Niu's works have been exhibited in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, France, the Netherlands, Australia and collected by the Singapore National Art Museum, Shanghai Art Museum, HSBC Private Bank and Stephen A. Schwarzman Education Foundation as well as many private collectors worldwide.

Met in Shanghai

Even if you pass 1,000 people a day for 20 years, you will only have passed less than one third of all the people living in Shanghai. Of those millions you will pass, just a handful will enter your life — and usually not for very long. But during even those brief moments that their personality, their force of will, their lives enter ours, we change. And then we forget about them.

What would it take to trace all the important and influential people in our lives? How would we mark them even if we knew who they were? Would we be able to understand our own fate were we able to remember the people and places we encountered throughout our lives?

Ann Niu’s project did not start with such distinct goals but instead as a way to memorialize distant friendships when she moved to California from Shanghai. She missed the people she had met in her hometown and she realized how many interesting personalities had appeared while she was there. When she began painting the portraits almost twenty years ago, she had no easy way of keeping contact with those old friends so a portrait was a tribute to their memory. And she painted them not from impressions of beauty or stylized idealism, but from the force of their character. 

The people in the portraits are true to life for Ann Niu. The sharpness of a jawline that does not exist in real life yet is there on paper exists as a result of a translation. That particular jawline might be there because of the strength of their voice or the power of their language. Enlarged eyes would be the result of another important characteristic that stands out to Ann Niu. The portraits are not attempting to express beauty but rather to express a truth about the character of people, according to the artist. And she hasn’t limited herself to real people: she also includes influential historical figures. The result is a series of portraits of the ancient and the contemporary, the familiar and the unfamiliar, and the characteristics that make us interesting. Perhaps one of these portraits is your neighbor, or perhaps, it is you.

Here — just as with all of us — the sum of all the influences is greater than its parts. Taken together, the special project becomes a celebration of the artist and those who made the artwork possible. Maybe we won’t be able to meet all 26 million people in Shanghai, but hopefully we will continue to meet the right ones.

—— Peter Hagan art writer, founder of HuArts