Sunday, May 6, 2007
Ryan McGinley: Building a youthsex brand
Ryan McGinley, 2005, All rights reserved
In a profile by Philip Gefter in today’s NY Times, Ryan McGinley is presented as the latest chronicler of America’s flaming youth. McGinley photographs mostly naked white kids in communal settings – partying, swimming, road tripping, etc. Viewers are reminded of Nan Goldin's doomed NY hipsters from Ballad of Sexual Dependency days, but, unlike Goldin’s alphabet city scramblers, McGinley’s preppies look so young & dewy, so untouched by grownup experience, I can imagine them being targeted as kiddy porn if McGinley weren’t himself their sweet-faced peer.
Then too, Goldin’s photos have a strong sense of story. Her images capture emotional pulses – mostly crises -- in lives we can actually imagine. McGinley’s are disturbingly random, as though plucked, this-frame-as-good-as-that-frame, from a playacted version of endless summer. As the Times describes McGinley’s method, he “…shoots as much as he can in the belief that ‘editing is as good as shooting’ .” His projects have a reality show structure: In the summer of 2003, for example, he rented a house in Vermont and invited groups of friends to come and stay a week to be photographed. The groups were “invited” to walk naked through the woods, jump on a trampoline, climb and perch in trees. The results are sloppy snapshots of naked teenagers performing usually witless behaviors – a kind of carefully cast youth nudist colony with McGinley as activities director. Occasionally, they deliver a genuine erotic – often homoerotic – jolt. To my eye, that’s as good as it gets.
I was struck by the article’s gee-whiz admiration for McGinley’s entrepreneurial savvy and zeal. While still in high school, his first show appropriated a Who title, “The Kids Are Allright,” and squatted in a Soho gallery building that was being renovated. He made desk-top books of his photos to sell and mailed them to art directors and favorite photographers like Goldin and Larry Clark. These days -- like a successful manufacturer turning out product -- he charters cross-country trips with eight friends and two assistants in a pair of vans. McGinley shoots 20-30 rolls of film a day and his assistants video everything. The trips cost $100,000 each.
The Times’ piece seems so wowed by all this energy it’s hardly a surprise when Gefter concludes that “…what distinguishes him [McGinley] from a personal blogger or online visual diarist is the rigor of his artistic output and his ambition.”
Move over Jeff Koons.