After nearly a decade of being a defining and defying figure in the art world, Ryan McGinley’s legitimacy is still being questioned. Last month McGinley unveiled his latest exhibit at SoHo’s Team Gallery entitled Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, inspired by a Neil Young song of the same name.
Ryan McGinley started out alongside Dash Snow, skateboarding, tagging every brick wall in Manhattan and documenting it through Polaroid candids. McGinley’s confidence grew, branching out into bigger projects which ultimately landed him a gig at the Whitney Museum, naming him the youngest artist to have a solo exhibit (he was twenty-five). McGinley’s photos were staged reality. He would bring his subjects to picturesque landscapes across the country and followed them as they ran free. The results of his road trips became the 2007 exhibit Irregular Regulars and the 2008 exhibit I Know Where the Summer Goes. Critics were outraged by his approach, deeming him a fraud for creating controlled spontaneity and stating his photographs were devoid of consequence. Sexuality, critics asserted, isn’t innocent fun as McGinley portrayed it. As it turns out, they might be the fools in this situation for McGinley had every intention of having his art appear in that manner, “The world in my photographs has always been a fantasy.”
Over the course of two years, and using a digital camera for the first time, McGinley captured soulful black and white nudes of young people from around the world who intrigued him. He flew them in for a two to three hour portrait session in his Chinatown studio. Browsing through Team Gallery down a wall stacked with three rows of framed black and white portraits, you get a sense of theme from his subjects. Tattoos? Maybe. But you find yourself constantly having to glance down towards the subject’s genitals to determine their sex. As your eyes roll down, it’s hard not to think this is what McGinley was aiming for. Every artist has his or her muse. Ryan McGinley’s happens to be any naked androgynistic beauty he can train his lens on. Last month the David-Bowie-inspired McGinley told T Magazine “When I can find someone androgynous, it’s the best because it’s like a two-in-one package.”
Is androgyny hot? The proof lies within this video of last month’s opening night reception of Everyone Knows This is Nowhere. (This is not edited for effect kids. Trust me, I live around the corner). McGinley was well ahead of us, having an eye and passion for the subject of sexually-questionable looking beings when style was simply accepted as only feminine or masculine. “I like to take risks and I like the idea of putting myself in a position for potential failure. I think that’s what life is about, if you’re not failing you’re not doing anything at all.”