Lynn Goldsmith, Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox, ca. 1985

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Ren Hang, dead at 29. Who doesn’t smile at photos of naked youth frolicking? Lipstick on dicks? Did he transcend art school spring break or early Ryan McGinley? Yes, he did. When the bodies became forms and multiple bodies created new sculptures, new versions of mythical creatures with several heads and extra limbs. When he entered Asger Carlsen territory, it got very interesting. Yet the photography of these forms always retained its Minolta 110 point and shoot feel. The gaze of the models was a constant element, they almost never smile, eye contact is intense, the moment you think this is play, a joke about a flower growing out of an asshole, there’s one or three of his models staring you down.

Art about bodies, sexuality that defies rigid definition, even in 2017, especially in 2017, is still no joke: “He was jailed because his images were considered pornography, which has been illegal in China since 1949, his work was frequently censored, and his website was removed.” (the Artforum obit). From the United States, supposed land of the free, rumored sanctuary of liberty, a view of Ren Hang: I don’t have to love his work, but I’m sure as hell going to celebrate it.