JTF (just the facts): A total of 74 black and white photographs, framed in black and matted, and hung in the main gallery and smaller back room spaces. All of these prints are gelatin silver prints, taken in 2010, roughly 18×12 or reverse, and printed in editions of 3. There are also 4 large scale c-prints on display, framed in white with no mat. These works are roughly 110×72 or reverse, also in editions of 3. An exhibition catalogue of the black and white portraits has been published by Dashwood Books (here). (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: Ryan McGinley’s new black and white portraits feel like an overt challenge to those who have dismissed his work as an overrated, overhyped group of flash-in-the-pan snapshot pictures of naked young people. He has taken a calculated and some might say dangerous risk here, and attempted to match the masters of the medium with his own take on the pared down studio nude. Many have tried and failed to find a personal and original view point in this subject, and I have to admit that I like the confidence it shows that he was willing to step into the breach and really test himself, rather than just churn out more work that has already proven attractive to many.
So what does a Ryan McGinley studio nude look like? For one thing, the frenetic energy and motion of his larger work is generally absent, as his models pose with shy, androgynous awkwardness against the uniform grey background – there are more quiet personal moments here, rather than zany antics and exuberant laughter. Second, his nudes are not particularly explicit or erotic; they trend more toward classic forms and fragmented body parts, with a large helping of faces to keep the pictures grounded in the specifics of single individuals. While a few too many of these images wander a bit too far into the well worn paths of the beautiful people who inhabit Abercrombie and Fitch ads (a little too perfect and retouched), in general, I came away impressed with McGinley’s ability to find tenderness and intimacy, to capture a genuine kaleidoscope of youthful emotions and moods.
Those who visit this exhibit with a pre-disposition to take McGinley down a few notches will likely have a “been there, done that” reaction to these portraits. Fair enough. But I would submit that while these pictures do not have the same throw down as similar works by Mapplethorpe or Opie, they do attempt to get inside a particular subgroup of culture (the 18-28 year old) and see some of its unexpected and fragile beauty. Thin bodies, tattoos, messy hair, gap teeth, they all come together in joy and uncertainty, but with a vitality that is palpable. Edit out the bottom third of these works and the phrase “classic McGinley nude” might start to mean something quite distinctive.
Collector’s POV: The black and white portraits in this show are priced at $5000 each; the larger c-prints are $25000 each. A few examples of McGinley’s work have recently started to become available in the secondary markets; prices have ranged between $2000 and $23000.