Ryan McGinley: The Kids Are Alright
Drawn from skateboard, music, graffiti, and gay cultures, the subjects of Ryan McGinley's photographs interact with the camera with a self-conscious candour that is at once shocking, banal, alluring and repulsive. The images exhibited at the Whitney show McGinley's friends and lovers enacting the daily rituals of contemporary youth culture: they hang out, have sex, do drugs, go to gigs, and romp naked in the woods.
Hung on the walls of one of the most respected art institutions in America, these photographs of youthful rebellion occupy a precarious position between the two seemingly disparate worlds of the art museum and the lifestyle magazine. It is this unstable status that makes the photographs so captivating yet ultimately problematic.
When visiting Manhattan as a high school student in New Jersey, McGinley now just 25 was himself the subject of Larry Clark's documentary photographs of skateboarders.
The two became friends and, soon after, while a graphic design student at Parsons School of Design, McGinley began to photograph his own social circle on the Lower East Side. In a shrewd act of self-promotion, McGinley produced and distributed a book of these photographs titled The Kids Are Alright. He sent the publication to his subjects, his favourite photographers and the editors of various art and culture magazines.
This was the catalyst of working relationships with monthlies such as Dazed & Confused, Index, i-D, Dutch, and Butt.
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RYAN MCGINLEY IN CONVERSATION WITH ANA FINEL HONIGMAN
New Jersey-born Ryan McGinley studied graphic design at New York's Parsons School of Visual Arts. In 1999 he sent 100 magazine editors and artists he admired a 50-page book of photographs he had produced on his desktop computer entitled The Kids Are Alright. The book consisted of exuberantly bacchanalian images of his friends in New York City. In these images, fellow artists like Hannah Liden, Dan Colen, Dash Snow and Emily Sundblad masturbate, roll joints, tag walls, and scamper naked in the woods. Like Nan Goldin and Larry Clark, McGinley shot intimate portraits of friends far on the margins of social acceptability. But the humanity and poetry of his predecessors' work came from the pathos, pain and gallows-humor in their images, whereas the grittiness in McGinley's photographs glowed with the exuberant bliss of being young, hot and acting out. The day that Index magazine received the book, they called McGinley to fly to Berlin and shoot for editorial.
In 2003, McGinley was the youngest artist (at age 26) to exhibit for a solo show in the Whitney Museum of Art. The tone of the 20 large-scale color prints presented in the show, as part of the Whitney's 'First Exposure' series showcasing emerging photographers, was described by Holland Cotter in a New York Times review as 'relaxed and playful, as if the world were on recess'. In an art world and mass culture pathologically obsessed with youth, McGinley's well-crafted and carefully selected images actually did what photography claims to do - they captured fleeting moments. His models were not professional kids paid to produce some simulacrum of youthful cool. Instead, they were actually members of that blessed demographic, and so was he.
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