If it were May Day, I might have thought the swarms of gorgeous disaffected young people on Mercer and Wooster Streets were protesting The System. But it was the day after, and nobody was shouting. It was only a Ryan McGinley show.
McGinley’s opening last year was notoriously so packed that firemen were called. This time, in an expansive gesture, Team Gallery made the thing a block party complete with free ice cream and Atlas Sound playing on the roof. Does this make a spectacle out of the art show? Yes, and don’t we need more spectacles? The public kind, the kind that brings people to look at people, a long pile-up of genuine fascination and giving-a-fuck. It is rare for art to cause such a disturbance in the pervasive force of boringness. There were more people outside both shows—Animals, at Team Gallery’s Grand St. location, and Grids, at the Wooster space—than I’ve ever seen inside any other show, and they were actually, honestly, talking about the art.
I’ll talk about it too. The millennial deconvergence of art and politics is fascinating to me, and I haven’t yet solved it, not that I could necessarily, or should. Beauty stands in opposition to reality. That’s why we need it: reality is both too much and not enough to bear. McGinley emerged victorious from the Vice school of photography, discarding all that lazily contrived rawness for a post-9/11 reclamation of beauty and youth. It is right for McGinley that Grids focuses on the rapt, druggy, hallowed faces of mostly white kids at popular music festivals, not the kids at, say, Occupy protests. I do not know whether it is right for us. I think about how our memory will be served in tomorrow’s museums: a whole generation at peace in pure self-expression while everything rages outside.
There is something more honest about Animals, the studio shoots of nubile bodies with less tamed creatures. I loved several of the Animals immediately and with no reserve: the flown birds obscuring a fragilely naked girl, the golden snake coiled over a golden boy’s dick. These are photographs about capture. The best, though, are the ones in which McGinley has left raw only those claw-scrapes on skin, the remnants of a battle between animal and human, between nature and, well, art. Among all the battles to be fought, he chose one that he could win.
That does not make his work less impressive, per se. It’s easy to take pretty photos of pretty people. It is difficult to take beautiful photos of anything. It’s even more difficult in these dumb Photoshop years to believe in 2D beauty period. McGinley is the priest of it; you have to give him that. And the priest must never know what is happening outside his practice.