In the 2018 edition of the Grand Larousse illustré, the definition of the term “plagiarist” is as follows: “To plunder the works of others by passing off the copied parts as his own”. We recognize the ambiguity of the term which, in the art milieu, often replaces that of "inspiration", a popular alibi among forgers. Most of the time, the artist caught in the act of plagiarism rarely gets another chance, they are abandoned by the public furious to have been duped this way. But what about when the offending artist is dead and his fraudulence is exposed posthumously?

 

In the case of photographer Ren Hang, it all began with an email from a mysterious Lucien Y, a visitor to the exhibition Love, Ren Hang, presented at the Maison européenne de la photographie until May. After he left the Parisian institution, he expressed his amazement to Jean-Jacques Naudet, director of publication at the magazine Œil de la photographie: “The preface of the exhibition indicated that Ren Hang had been influenced by Terry Richardson and [Nobuyoshi] Araki, but did not mention anything about Ryan McGinley, Guy Bourdin, Robert Farber or Robert Mapplethorpe ... While these names came to mind, the similarities between what I knew and what I was seeing in this exhibition were pounding through my head.” He proceeded to compile a portfolio that can leave no one in doubt.

 

 

 

Subversively, the homosexual artist mixed desire and insouciance, floating identity and phantasmagorical sexuality.

 

 

Starting with the animals. While butterflies dress the nude body of an impassive young man, a reticulated python is a leitmotiv in the work of the Chinese photographer, wandering over the skin of dreaming models, hiding their private parts alluding to a more obscene dimension all while denying it. We find these animals and a similar scenography in the work of Ryan McGinley, a New York photographer who works closely with nature. Part of the American cultural underground, when he was just 25 years old, he had a solo show at the Whitney Museum in New York. Which, in hindsight, we think was an important source of inspiration. But Ren Hang also borrows the flora mise-en-scenes from his counterpart: he photographed his models in trees and invited them to embrace, wrapped in cellophane, set in verdant landscapes. Robert Mapplethorpe and Guy Bourdin have also been plundered. Because in these cases we do talk in terms of plundering: a choreography of nude legs from the first and half a dozen hands with red painted fingernails reaching over a woman from the second.

 

Heir to cynical realism, a Chinese art movement born in the wake of events in Tiananmen Square in 1989, photographer Ren Hang achieved iconic status after his premature death when the young man committed suicide in 2017 aged 30. Subversively, the homosexual artist mixed desire and insouciance, floating identity and phantasmagorical sexuality. His sense of mise-en-scene gave him access to the pantheon of nude photographers, a status that today has been battered by these revelations and unequivocal proof… 

 

Find the full portfolio on the Œil de la photographie website.