Since the 1970s, contemporary Chinese photographer Gong Jianhua has been photographing Shanghai’s longtang neighborhoods. Unique to Shanghai, longtang are an architectural hybrid, started in the late 19th century, in which the traditional Chinese courtyard home is adapted to the urban townhouse format. As the exhibition’s title suggests, longtang were organized into walled urban neighborhoods, each interlaced with a grid of progressively narrower lanes and alleyways. Gong’s photographs, which span the period from the end of the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) to Shanghai’s recent resurgence as a global economic hub, provide vivid access to these semiprivate passages that once dominated Shanghai’s urban landscape. Rather than document this disappearing architectural style, Gong’s work is sensitive to the unique way in which the longtang environment affected its residents’ everyday lives.
The 25 photographs in this exhibition comprise half of a promised gift from Kent and Marcia Minichiello, which was divided between VMFA and the Joel and Lila Harnett Print Study Center, University of Richmond Museums. The exhibition is a collaboration between the University or Richmond Museums and VMFA and was curated by Kristopher Kersey, Assistant Professor of Art History, University of Richmond.