A special exhibition at the Snite Museum of Art celebrated the life and work of Hong Kong master painter Chao Shao-an (1905-1998), a world-renowned artist whose career spanned nearly eight decades. Cosponsored by the Liu Institute, “Chao Shao-an: Moments between Worlds” opened on February 4 with seventeen pieces on loan from the personal collection of Chao’s son Chi Tai Chiu and grandson KY Chiu, a 1989 engineering graduate of Notre Dame.
Born of humble origins in China’s Guangdong province, Chao was accepted as a teen into a studio that would shape China’s Lingnan School. Through the years, Chao himself became regarded as having a profound impact on the course of twentieth-century painting by integrating Western techniques into traditional Chinese painting.
His pieces on display at Notre Dame were divided into three categories: flowers, fruits, and insects, common subjects for Chao’s art, especially during his later life.
The exhibition’s opening celebration on February 6 included a reflection by KY Chiu, a keynote lecture by curator and Liu Institute visiting fellow Fletcher Coleman, and a painting demonstration by Chao’s former student Andy Chan of Chicago. The event drew 120 attendees from the Notre Dame community and beyond.
In his address, Coleman, a specialist in Asian art history, explained the hardship that Chao overcame throughout his career, including social unrest, the loss of his father, and survival and exile through wartime.
“Whereas many of his contemporaries perished in conflict or were overwhelmed by the political circumstances of the twentieth century, Chao Shao-an endured,” Coleman said. While Chao’s artistic philosophy was rooted in Chinese tradition, he “incorporated techniques and subject matter that synthesized the ever-changing historical landscape he experienced over nine decades,” Coleman explained.
Coleman titled the exhibition “Moments between Worlds” to pay tribute to Chao’s prolific international travels. The artist won his first international gold medal in 1930 in Brussels, and his work was exhibited internationally throughout the 1930s. From the 1950s through the 1970s, he showed his work across Asia, Europe, and North America.
Guests at the opening celebration not only admired Chao’s work, but also were enthralled by Andy Chan’s painting demonstration. Charming and engaging, Chan chatted and joked with spectators as he turned seemingly disparate brushstrokes into flowers, birds, landscapes and even a rat to mark the Lunar New Year.
In addition to Coleman and the Snite Museum, Catherine Leung of Notre Dame’s Hong Kong Global Center helped facilitate the exhibition.
Michel Hockx, director of the Liu Institute said, “We are grateful to KY Chiu and his family, Catherine Leung, Fletcher Coleman, and the Snite Museum for helping to move the University toward a more inclusive vision of art and art education.”