Walsh Gallery

Review

CHICAGO TRIBUNE

REVIEW


June 11, 2010 
by Lauren Viera

Gao Lei at Walsh Gallery

The conundrum we're faced with here is swallowing the too-big collection of photographs by a relative newcomer, Gao Lei, or feeling guilty for dismissing such important subject matter based on artistic merit.

Educated in hydromechanics before returning to school for photography in 2002, Chinese photographer Lei is ambitious, to be sure. He spent a handful of months in Gaza back in 2004 not for religious or political intentions, but simply to capture photographs of humans in "harsh environments." The documentary-style results, unfortunately, seem a bit too earnest. 

Lei is at his best when he has models in his studio, or is alone with a landscape. His "Boxers" series is a collection of Chinese sanda (kickboxing) Olympic champs, printed larger than life in glossy black and white, their gritty complexions and sweaty brows glistening with genuine rawness. Some of their stances aren't quite convincing, as if Lei wasn't sure what direction to give them - which makes them all the more real.

A few of Lei's "Panorama" wide-lens photographs warrant more than a glance. These he took in vacant grasslands along China's Liao River, giant oil rigs popping from the horizon like weeds. We view them as Lei did, from a distance, and they're powerful.

 

 

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NEW CITY

May 4, 2010

Review: Gao Lei/Walsh Gallery

RECOMMENDED

Is there a contemporary Chinese photographer whose work is not worth a close look? Gao Lei continues with the unbroken string of cutting-edge images from China that have hit Chicago in the last five years while he breaks with the dominant postmodern trend, by going global in his choice of subjects and shooting documentary series in black-and-white. Lei traveled to the Gaza strip with neither a sentimental humanistic, a political, nor a photo-journalistic intent, but to explore the "harshness" of a place that curator Wu Hung explains represented for Lei "the purgatory of contemporary mankind." Lei's pellucid, finely tonally graded prints reveal that harshness when we see a row of masked fighters with their assault rifles; two men shot from behind leaning anxiously over a wall as a little girl faces the camera with grim bitterness in the foreground; and a mother sitting straight in a chair, her expression fixed in stony stoicism, as her wounded and bandaged son sits on the floor in front of her in sullen pain. Gao Lei is a documentary poet, transmitting a truth lying beneath the surface. (Michael Weinstein)