Two of the loveliest photographs in “China Revisited” are by Gao Yuan, who places nude Chinese women before striking landscapes—a hazy, industrial-apocalyptic construction scene, an ocean beneath roiling clouds. The women recline before the camera as if posing for a portrait. But their bodies are turned away from the viewer, the better to expose the ornate tattoos on their backs. In other pieces by Gao, who divides her time between New York and Beijing, women are posed in front of moody cityscapes, holding babies up to the camera. Gao intends the juxtaposition between the Renaissance-madonna-like foreground image and its urban surroundings as a comment on China’s rapidly changing economy.
Which looks to be the intention, too, behind I Cannot Pass Through by architect-turned-photographer Chen Jianang, in which a forlorn woman sits on a wrecked bridge over a river filled with garbage. Chen’s photos document China’s Third Line, or Third Front, region, an area that saw rapid military-industrial buildup in the 1960s and then deindustrialization in the ’80s. Rendered in muted tones, the buildings behind Chen’s lonely woman look trashed and abandoned. The only paintings in this show, by 23-year-old Yu Qian, are also about the tensions of tradition and modernity. In some, characters engage in pastoral activities—riding a cart pulled by a mule, serving a hot bowl of soup. In others, women in fancy dresses look disaffected, as if they’re posing.