JTF (just the facts): A total of 19 color photographs, unmatted and framed in black, and hung in the single room gallery space. All of the works are digital c-prints, taken between 2008 and 2010. The prints come in two sizes: 16×20 (in editions of 8) and 24×30 (in editions of 3). The show includes 17 pictures in the smaller size and 2 in the larger size. A monograph of this body of work has recently been published by Charles Lane Press (here). (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: Shen Wei’s recent images of China fly in the face of the now familiar energetic, economic boom narrative that dominates the our media-saturated view of the Eastern giant. Whether his subject is a landscape, a still life, or a portrait, his images have a consistent emotional tenor, a formal sense of solitary, introspective reserve. There are no pictures of overcrowded chaotic streets filled with noisy bicycles here; instead Shen provides a sense of melancholy distance, where small moments of uncertain peace occur in the muted tones of a grey morning.
Shen’s portraits capture his sitters alone in their rooms or in fleeting glimpses of thoughtful repose; they are at once intimate and unknowable, buried in private stillness. His landscapes find a similar mood: the enveloping mist of a fountain, the rain splattered surface of an ornamental pond, a single figure watching a red paddle boat disappear under a bridge, or the head of a ticket booth attendant in the dark of the early evening. Even his still lifes have a sense of dull ache: the gooey leftovers of a sugar candy stick, an unopened plastic bag of noodle soup on a window sill, or the box of fancy pears in protective sheaths bought for a special occasion. Seen together, the different compositional forms coalesce into an overall sensitivity to the subtle action on the periphery of life, an awareness of the shifts that happen just outside the norwal sweep of our gaze.
Overall, I liked the sense of understatement and restraint that Shen shows across this body of work. He successfully holds back from courting the obvious, and instead, dives deeper for something more durable and resonant.
Collector’s POV: The prints in this exhibit are priced as follows: the 16×20 prints are $1500 each and the 24×30 prints are $2500 each. Shen’s work has effectively no secondary market history, so gallery retail is likely the only option for interested collectors at this point. 20×200 (here) also has some of his work for sale.
My favorite image in the show was Tingwei, Shangahi, 2010; it’s on the far left in the bottom installation shot and is also on the cover of the monograph. I like the quietly innocent, eyes-closed expression on her face and the way her hair spreads out on the long green grass; the image has a calm serenity, like the edge of a dream.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
- Artist site (here) and blog (here)
- Interview: Conscientious (here)
Shen Wei, Chinese Sentiment
Through June 4th
Daniel Cooney Fine Art
511 West 25th Street
New York, NY 10001