Mao Xuhui is famed as the leader of the mid-1980s Southwestern Art Research Group, which included Zhang Xiaogang, Ye Yongqing and Pan Dehai. Like many of his mainland contemporaries, Mao Xuhui has developed a kind of branding identity for his work through the repeated use of certain symbols and figurative objects. Mao is universally recognised for his "scissors," "chair," and "parents" series, all of which reflect the strong influence of German expressionism as well as a motif of control and restraint. In recent years, Mao Xuhui has struggled between the contradictions between reality and artistic ideals, resulting in a return to the rustic style of painting from which he deliberately turned away in the early '80s. These rustic scenes reflect a gradual coming to terms with the tumultuous years spanned by his career, and a sense of rediscovered serenity.
Mao graduated from the Yunnan Art Academy in 1982 and in 1985, alongside Zhang Xiaogang, Hou Wenyi, Zhang Long, Pan Dehai, and others, organised New Concrete Image (Shanghai, 1985), one of the first self-funded exhibitions in China, which later travelled to Nanjing, Kunming, and Chongqing. In 1986, Mao introduced the works of artists from the Southwestern region at the Zhuhai Conference and formally founded formed the Southwestern Art Research Group. Works by Mao and others from the group were shown at the seminal China/Avant-Garde Exhibition in Beijing, 1989. Other important exhibitions include: Farewell to Trend: The Art of Mao Xuhui, Minsheng Art Museum, Beijing (2010), Mao Xuhui: 30 Years An Artist, Hong Kong Arts Centre (2007), Air of Destiny, Shenzhen Art Museum, Shenzhen, China (2005); Inside Out: New Chinese Art, Asia Society and P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, New York; Museum of Modern Art and Asia Art Museum of San Francisco, San Francisco, USA and Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Monterrey, Mexico (1998); and China’s New Art, Post-1989, Hong Kong Arts Center, Hong Kong (1993). Mao was awarded the Asian Cultural Council Fellowship in 2000. He currently works out of his studio in studio in the Chuang Ku ("creative loft") district of Kunming, China and serves on the faculty of Yunnan University.