by Lee Carter (HINT)
What you see is what you get with Ryan McGinley—no high-falutin concepts, pretentious doublespeak, or deep-seated pathology. His photographs of naked young things frolicking in nature don't suggest a parallel lasciviousness, just as his portraits of friends hanging out in his apartment don't claim to be anything other than that.
Two simultaneous solo exhibits of new work launching this week at the original Team Gallery and its new second location are just as self-explanatory. The first, Animals, is a series of studio portraits in which live animals are paired with nude models, just a couple of god's creatures hanging out the way he intended—in the buff. And the second is Grids, consisting of three giant grids filled with photos of young concert-goers blissing out to one of life's simple pleasures, music.
In both shows, the images are large, colorful and a joy to look at. Here, Ryan McGinley gives a glimpse into their making...
Where did the idea for staging two concurrent exhibits come from? Seems like a lot of work.
Team Gallery opened a second space on Wooster Street last year. It's right around the corner from its Grand Street space in Soho. I'm the first artist in the gallery to have a double show. I've been working on the Grid project for about four years now, traveling all over America and Europe to different music festivals. The Animals have been in the works for nearly two years. I've never exhibited my photographs in a grid presentation or displayed an entire show of color studio images so they both feel very new to me.
Actors warn never to work with animals. Which was the most challenging critter to direct?
Yes, that's true, you can't direct animals and that's what I love about them. They are out of control, wild, and they do what they want. Shooting in the studio you have control over how everything looks. It's completely artificial and usually feels staged. I wanted an element that created chaos, a sense of spontaneity, a little controlled weirdness. The ibex [goat] created some turbulence by tearing up the set the minute he walked onto the colored paper. The marmoset used all parts of the [model's] body like a jungle gym.
If you could be any animal, existing or extinct, what would it be and why?
A spider monkey, which was my favorite animal to photograph. I wanted to take it home with me. I was so sad parting with it after I photographed it. I like that they are highly agile. They communicate their intentions and observations using postures and stances, and their diet consists primarily of ripe fruit and nuts. Seems right up my alley, kinda the way I lead my own life. They also have disproportionately long limbs and their tail functions as a fifth arm. I just love the way they move and I love they way they hug me. Their little body on my chest and their long arms wrap all the way around my back. It's amazing.
In Grids, you photographed enthusiastic teenagers at concerts and musical festivals. Are you still a kid at heart?
My mom breaks out into singing and dancing at any given moment. My father acted so silly well into his 80s. He'd say to me, "Growing old is mandatory. Growing up is optional." The subjects in my photographs are a representation of my spirit. I love their soul, it's a meaning that I understand. I'm trying to capture a feeling that speaks to me. Musical performances let you lose control. They let you scream and jump and wild out.
I imagine you've been to a lot of concerts. What's your most life-changing concert moment?
I saw Stevie Wonder in Austin City Limits this past year. The most beautiful experience is closing your eyes and dancing to music, that's what I want my photos to feel like.
Animals, 83 Grand Street; Grids, 47 Wooster Street. Both exhibits run from May 2 to June 2. Joint opening reception: May 2, 6-8 pm. @Team Gallery.
May 2nd – June 2nd 2012
83 Grand Street
Team is pleased to present an exhibition of new work by New York-based artist Ryan McGinley. Entitled Animals, the show will run from 02 May through 02 June, 2012. Team Gallery is located at 83 Grand Street, between Wooster and Greene, on the ground floor. Concurrently, our 47 Wooster Street space will house Grids, an additional solo show by McGinley culled from an entirely different body of work. This marks the first time a single artist has had simultaneous shows in our two spaces.
Animals consists of McGinley’s color portraits of live animals with nude models. The exhibition is his first made up exclusively of selections from this growing, and ambitious, body of work. The artist visited various sanctuaries, zoos, and rescue establishments across the United States, erecting a mobile studio wherever possible and working with a number of pre-eminent animal trainers. The animals are not mere props in photographs of people; on the contrary, McGinley considers them the subjects of these images. There exists both tension and tenderness between the models and wild animals, as they claw, clutch, nibble, and hug one another.
This body of work has two starkly contrasting sides, epitomized by two of the photographs on view. In the comical Marmoset (Horizon Blue), a tiny monkey hangs from a male model’s pubic hair, partly obscuring his genitals. The human legs and torso are covered in scratches and the marmoset stares directly at the camera, wearing an expression of apparent shock. In Parakeets, a flock of lushly colored birds tears across a blue background while a girl, face obscured by a blurred green and white wing, stretches out her arms in an imitation of flight. The barroom roughhouse of the former and dulcet elegance of the latter act as the exhibition’s counterweights. Where the first piece is grotesque and lascivious, as humorous as it is horrifying, the other — a gushing moment of poetic beauty — strikes a profound emotional and visual harmony.
These photographs are studies in animal bodies, their strangeness and seductivity. As a collection, they highlight the similarities and differences between the various species’ anatomies, the familiarity and relative regularity of the human form providing a blank slate against which to read the animals. The Pop art attitude generated through the use of candy-colored backgrounds serves to make the images all the more attractive, introducing an internal tension between their initially inviting appearances and the sometimes off-putting subject matter. These colors, in tandem with the improbable relationships between the animals and people, situate the photographs firmly within the province of the surreal and psychedelic.
Wild animals add a strong element of unpredictability to the traditionally more controlled context of studio photography. McGinley often gives light direction to his models, but animals do not heed such instruction. Though he devises each situation, choosing and pairing animals and models with variously colored backdrops, perhaps suggesting an initial position, the images are never pre-mediated: he allows the interactions to unfold naturally, photographing the outcome. McGinley’s approach to his work blurs the lines separating private and public, nature and studio, staged and documentary. In much the same spirit with which he has imposed the studio upon the wild — employing cinematic lighting in his recent outdoor photography — he has introduced the wild into a type of studio setting.
McGinley’s photographs are included in the collections of The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C., and many others. The 34 year-old artist has had solo exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of Art and at MoMA PS1 in New York, at the MUSAC in Spain, and at the Kunsthalle Vienna. Last year McGinley had solo shows in London and Amsterdam. Earlier this year a monograph on his work was released by Twin Palms Press. May 2012 will also see the release of a long-awaited book surveying his career from 1999 through the present. Published by Rizzoli, the book contains essays by Chris Kraus and John Kelsey, as well as an interview with Gus Van Sant.
Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10am to 6pm. For further information and/or photographs, please call 212 279 9219.