JTF (just the facts): A total of 10 large scale color photographs, framed in black and unmatted, and hung in the divided gallery space. All of the works are digital chromogenic prints, made between 2009 and 2012. The prints come in two sizes: 20×30 (in editions of 5) and 30×45 (in editions of 3). The show includes 4 pictures in the smaller size and 6 in the larger size. (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: Given that there aren’t many male nudes in contemporary Chinese photography, Shen Wei’s new self-portraits could certainly be called cultural outliers. His documents of self expression follow the path of the calm and the understated rather than the overtly provocative or the knowingly political, tracing an inward-looking personal exploration with remarkably restrained sensitivity. There is still, of course, tension in these pictures, but it is reserved and quiet, open but uncertain.
Most of Shen’s images play with the angles of his body: bent knees on a window sill, an arched back bend, a straight leg interrupting a table top still life, a triangular elbow propping up his head. His graceful stance in a submerged boat, using his outstretched leg to make concentric ripples in the light dappled water reminded me of Thomas Eakins. A few others offer complex, unknowable situations and interactions: a hand on his neck that might be either a caress or a choke, a bedside scene flanked by a nude woman and a sprawled man that offers any number of possible explanations. Shadows engulf many of the photographs, drawing our attention to the central figure in the light and adding a layer of introspective melancholy.
The best of these photographs left me impressed with Shen’s growing compositional talents. When the pictures work, he successfully walks the line between realism and lyricism, all within the context of something genuinely personal.
Collector’s POV: The prints in this exhibit are priced in ratcheting editions, as follows: the 20×30 prints start at $2500 each and the 30×45 prints start at $3500 each (one print in this size had already reached $4500). Shen’s work has very little secondary market history, so gallery retail is still likely the best option for those collectors interested in following up.