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August 8, 2014

Chinese Art Stripped Bare

Ren Hang, the Beijing Photographer Shooting Down Taboo

“I’d love to have sex with all the models that I’ve shot—the urge to shoot nudity probably originates from my own impulses,” says prolific Chinese photographic artist Ren Hang, whose entwined and contorted sculptural compositions are often derided as obscene in his own country. “Most of the subjects are friends of mine,” the Beijing-based Changchun native adds. “I just want to organize parties, not tell a story: everything you see in the pictures you can find in real life.” Today’s series of portraits are featured in his alluring, disinhibited first solo exhibition Physical Borderline at Beijing’s Three Shadows +3 Gallery. Hang’s seemingly nihilistic exploration captured over the past six years—and featured in Purple magazine and Rencontres d'Arles Photography Festival in France—examines the confines of our bodies, or in his own words, “the lack thereof.” The artist’s courageous pursuit has not gone unnoticed in the West, but his unwavering passion for unrestrained nudity is still a taboo subject in China. “Being routinely banned here has made me feel numb towards any change,” says Hang of the exhibition’s unapologetic attempt to penetrate the uptight censorship culture of his home country.

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Spotlight

Richard Hamilton: Word and Image

The Late Pop Art Vanguard’s Printmaking is Remembered Ahead of a Blockbuster Year

Marilyn Monroe, bodybuilding contestants and cut-outs of seaside postcards populate Richard Hamilton’s mixed-media gaze in this series taken from a survey of prints at the Alan Cristea Gallery, London. Having worked with Hamilton for 30 years, Cristea collected his original screen prints into his first posthumous print catalogue Richard Hamilton: Word and Image. Prints 1963-2007, in a year that will see the artist lauded with a major retrospective at Tate Modern and an ancillary show at the ICA. Hamilton's magpie approach to social chronicling extended to painting, sculpture, photography, typography and collage, bringing to the fore the themes of status, power and consumer culture in 1950s and 1960s Britain. It was a method that resulted in memorable art works that segued into the popular sphere, such as the 1968 cover of The Beatles’ White Album, and  “Swingeing London 67” a silk screen of the arrest of Mick Jagger and the art dealer Robert Fraser that he began the same year. Hamilton, who died in 2011, owed part of his multidisciplinary stance to James Joyce, who he discovered while conscripted into military service. “Joyce commands all matter of literary styles and combines them into unprecedented display of linguistic pyrotechnics,” he said. “Presenting an example that later freed me to try some implausible associations in painting.”

Richard Hamilton Word and Image, Prints 1963-2007 runs February 14 through March 22 at Alan Cristea Gallery.

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Spotlight

Alex Prager: Crowd Pleaser

Get Lost in the Photographer’s Retro-Styled Studio on the Occasion of Her First Museum Show

“There's something strange about the rift between reality and fiction,” says LA-born photographer and filmmaker Alex Prager of her work that sees her play dress-up with her sister and muse Vanessa in her Silver Lake studio. Inspired by Prager’s cinematic images, director Arnaud Uyttenhove translated them into a playful portrait, juxtaposing her color-saturated archive with still lifes of vintage costumes and props. Following bouts of agoraphobia, the MoMA 2010 New Photography artist began to explore the loneliness and alienation that crowds can provoke, coating her images’ dark mood with a saccharine veneer. “I'm interested in creating a world for these characters to live in,” explains Prager, whose work is part of collections at the Whitney Museum in New York and Moderna Museet in Stockholm. For her latest series Face in the Crowd, exhibited at her first solo museum show at Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC, the photographer channeled the voyeuristic gaze previously employed by Cindy Sherman and Nan Goldin through the lens of 21st-century surveillance paranoia and post-Facebook isolation. “I want there to be a sense that something isn't quite right,” adds Prager, whose show includes a self-directed film with the all-American actress Elizabeth Banks. “Is it real or is it fake?” Frequently injecting her series with a noirish mood that brings to mind the psychologically haunting clichés of Hitchcock, as well as pioneers such as William Eggleston, Weegee or Martin Parr, Prager’s portraits blur the boundaries between the real and the surreal, the immediate and the staged, the contemporary and the nostalgic.

Which emotions do you associate with crowds?
Alex Prager:
Anxiety, boredom, fear, terror, frustration, curiosity, strong interest, warmth.

Unlike Eggleston, who captures the fleeting moment, your images are staged.
AP:
By staging them, I can create an emptiness or flatness that wouldn't otherwise be there. I am not interested in taking pictures of real crowds.

How does cinema inspire you?
AP:
The production aspect is really important to being able to make my work. I'll see shots in old movies and think, wow, I didn't know you could do that. I guess the thing about movies is that everything is possible. Knowing that opens a lot of doors in the imagination that wouldn't otherwise be there.

Face in the Crowd at Corcoran Gallery, Washington, DC runs through March 9, 2014.

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