Critics’ Picks

Ren Hang, Three Bodies, 2015, c-print photograph, 40 x 27”.

Ren Hang, Three Bodies, 2015, c-print photograph, 40 x 27”.

New York

Ren Hang

145 Elizabeth Street
March 6–April 5, 2015

Beijing-based photographer Ren Hang has devoted his first New York exhibition to naked bodies deviously posed in surreal, emotional configurations. Figures find puckish fit with one another or amid flora and fauna—a nocturnal lily pond, a butter-yellow python. The protagonist of Untitled 14 (all works 2014) gazes neutrally at the camera as five manicured hands pinch her neck into a comely five-point necklace of skin. In Untitled 6, three kneelers interlock their heads for a triskelion of sexless backs. Locations keep to the anonymous urban spaces of white-wall apartments, rooftop edges, and sequestered spots outdoors (Chinese law prohibits nudity en plein air). There is a refreshed, fetishy feel to these pictures; lips and nails are nearly always glopped wet red.

Ren’s willful though vulnerable subjects seem to prosper in their found places, warding off the solitude in the gap between their bodies and the frame. In other images too, where one head vanishes behind another, extra limbs line up, or succulent flowers are joined to human feelers and spouts, forms of idiosyncratic mutuality roundly win out over atomized individualism.

China’s ban on nudity in art was officially lifted three decades ago (a couple of years before Ren was born), but expressions of sexuality remain hushed in public, and an earlier generation of contemporary Chinese artists (like Zhang Huan or RongRong & inri) tended to set the nude as a symbol, indicating the fragile yet enduring individual or the idea of shared humanity. By contrast, the existences in Ren’s photographs evince infinite (if stylized) variety, proclaiming not bare life but a high life all their own: being otherwise, together.