Bernice “Bingo” Bing (1936-1998), a Chinese American artist and influential figure in the Bay Area art and beat scene of the 1960s, is celebrated in an alluring retrospective exhibition at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum. 

While she was largely neglected by mainstream ‘high art’ institutions for decades, Into View: Bernice Bing illuminates and restores Bernice Bing’s place as a multifaceted, unique artist. Throughout her life, Bing grappled with her complex intersectional identity as a woman, Chinese American, lesbian, and community activist.  The exhibition, which is on view through June 26th, 2023, includes the museum’s recent acquisition of 24 artworks from the late-50s to the mid-90s. Bing’s work spans her initial calling in Abstract Expressionism and figuration, her transformative periods in landscape imagery, Western abstraction, integration of Zen calligraphy, and then a final synthesis in her last major work, Epilogue (1990-1995). 

Bernice Bing was born in San Francisco’s Chinatown and spent her childhood between the Ming Quong orphanage and many White foster homes, which instilled a sense of alienation from a young age. It was not until she studied at the California College of Arts and Crafts (now California College of the Arts) with Saburo Hasegawa that she was meaningfully exposed to her heritage through Zen Buddhism, Chinese philosophers, and traditional calligraphy. She then went on to receive her BFA and MFA at the California School of Fine Arts (renamed SF Art Institute). Simultaneously, Bing was surrounded by and immersed in San Francisco’s Beat Generation and counterculture movement along with Carlos Villa, who was the subject of a recent limited exhibition at the Asian Art Museum. 

“I would like to think of myself as a disciple of the art of Chinese calligraphy;

however, my practice and knowledge are those of a novice. Yet the outcome

of my personal statement—how I view the world, using only knowledge and

experiences from the past, present, and future—remains on its own terms.”

– Bernice Bing

Bing’s artworks invite audiences to follow along as she navigates, exists, and reclaims her identity. At Into View: Bernice Bing, one can walk through the intimate space to view her colorful paintings, journal excerpts, and even several paper drawings on public view for the first time. Audiences are also immersed through auditory stimuli with Bing’s soft voice filling their ears in an interview where she speaks of feeling like a perpetual foreigner, even during her later 1984 Fulbright scholarship studies in China.

Bernice Bing, “Self Portrait with a Mask” (1960), oil on canvas, 33 1/4 × 29 1/4 inches. © Estate of the Artist. Photograph © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco • Courtesy

In one of her early works and her only self-portrait, Self Portrait with a Mask (1960), Bing paints a woman wearing a mask that is a tad large-fitting and of a lighter, whiter color – perhaps depicting the desire to find her true authentic self amidst the white male-dominated space where she had largely remained marginalized. 

Bing’s emotionally charged paintings blend Eastern and Western techniques. Especially after her formative trip to China, her artwork became heavily influenced by her Buddhist practice and traditional Chinese art. In her last major work, Epilogue (1990-1995), her diverse influences and techniques are melded together in a 24-foot-long 3-paneled arrangement. It tells how she does not belong in a singular place, cultural influence, nor technique, but rather her identity is an amalgamation of all her lived experiences.

Bernice Bing, “Epilogue” (1990-95), oil on canvas, 72 x 288 inches. © Estate of the Artist. Photograph © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco • Courtesy

Beyond her artwork, Bing was an influential social activist in the San Francisco arts communities. She worked to create safe, supportive environments for other Asian American artists, nonwhite artists, and underserved communities. She was involved in San Francisco’s Neighborhood Arts Programs, served as the first executive director of the South of Market Cultural Center (now SOMArts), and joined as a founding member of the Asian American Women Artists Association (AAWA). 

Into View: Bernice Bing is just the first in an ongoing series at the Asian Art Museum to uplift the voices and stories of modern and contemporary Asian American artists. This marks the beginning of restoring and reestablishing artists, like Bernice Bing, who have long been under-recognized but not forgotten. 

The Asian Art Museum is located at 200 Larkin St. in downtown San Francisco. Hours are Thursdays from 1 – 8pm and Fridays – Mondays from 10am – 5pm. 415-581-3500 or go to

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