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Ren Hang, Untitled, 2015. Courtesy OstLicht Gallery and Ren Hang Estate.

PRATO.- One of the first new projects to go on show in an Italian museum after the closure brought about by the health emergency runs from 4 June to 23 August 2020 at the Centro per l’arte contemporanea Luigi Pecci in Prato, which is exhibiting for the first time in Italy a corpus of works by the acclaimed Chinese photographer and poet Ren Hang (1987- 2017), who tragically died before turning thirty.

Curated by Cristiana Perrella, the exhibition Nudes presents a selection of 90 photographs by Ren Hang from international collections, accompanied by backstage documentation of a photo shoot in Wienerwald in 2015 and a broad selection of the photographic books he created.

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Ren Hang, Kissing Roof, 2012. Courtesy Stieglitz19 and Ren Hang Estate.

Ren Hang, who never wanted to be considered a political artist – despite his photographs being considered pornographic and subversive in China – is known above all for his research on the body, identity, sexuality and the relationship between humans and nature, with new generation, free and rebellious Chinese youths as the protagonists.

For the most part nude, his subjects appear on a roof among the skyscrapers of Beijing, in a forest of tall trees, in a pond with lotus flowers, in a bathtub among swimming goldfish or in a bare room, their faces unmoved and their limbs bent into unnatural poses. Swans, peacocks, snakes, cherries, apples, flowers and plants are used as absurd props but with great evocative power. Although often provocatively explicit in the display of sexual organs and the poses, which at times refer to sadomasochism and fetishism, Ren Hang's images are difficult to define, shocking and at the same time permeated by a sense of mystery and formal elegance that appears poetic and, in some ways, melancholic.

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Ren Hang, Untitled, 2012. Courtesy Stieglitz19 and Ren Hang Estate.

The bodies of the models - which are all similar to each other, slender, hairless, and with very pale skin and black hair, red lipstick and painted nails for the women - are transformed into sculptural forms where gender is not important. As the artist admitted: “Gender […] only matters to me when I’m having sex.” Rather than arousing desire, these images seem to want to break the taboos surrounding the naked body, challenging the moral tradition that still governs Chinese society. In China, in fact, the concept of the nude cannot be separated from pornography, and the nude as a genre is not recognised in art history. This is why Ren Hang’s photographs were often censored. “We were born nude…I just photographed things in their more natural conditions” (Ren Hang).

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Ren Hang, Portrait Plant, 2012. Courtesy Stieglitz19 and Ren Hang Estate.

Born in 1987 in Chang Chun, in the province of Jilin, nicknamed the "Detroit of China," Ren Hang studied Communication at Beijing University, interrupting his studies to start his career as a self-taught photographer. His first subject was his roommate. With low-cost digital cameras and the crude use of a flash, he developed a style that made him recognisable and allowed him to establish himself outside of his country, becoming a cult artist. His main exhibitions include the collective FUCK OFF 2 at the Groninger Museum in 2013, curated by Ai Weiwei, a solo exhibition at FOAM, Amsterdam, in 2017, and at the Maison de la Photographie in Paris and C/O in Berlin, both in 2019. He published his work in several self-produced short-run books, which are now impossible to find. Alongside his photographs, he wrote poetry with similar themes and tones. Often tender, sensual and completely uncensored, his verses were another tool to break social taboos and explore the themes of life, death and desire. Ren Hang suffered from severe depression and took his own life in Beijing in 2017.

'Art is personal, subjective.
Art originates from the relationship you have with yourself,
as it’s only through how you feel things that you can communicate something to others'. - Ren Hang

JUNE 04 — AUGUST 23, 2020

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Ren Hang, Girl with Ants, 2014. Courtesy Stieglitz19 and Ren Hang Estate.

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Ren Hang, Two Girls Dress, 2016. Courtesy Stieglitz19 and Ren Hang Estate.

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Ren Hang, Peacock, 2016. Courtesy Stieglitz19and Ren Hang Estate.

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Ren Hang, Nude, 2016. Courtesy Stieglitz19 and Ren Hang Estate.

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Ren Hang, Muur, 2016. Courtesy Stieglitz19 and Ren Hang Estate.

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Ren Hang, Untitled, 2015. Courtesy OstLicht Gallery and Ren Hang Estate.

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Installation views 'Ren Hang. Nudes' from 4 June to 23 August 2020 at the Centro per l’arte contemporanea Luigi Pecci in Prato.