Mar 24, 2017 | By Luke Tebbutt
Acclaimed as one of the most important American photographers of his generation, and with a string of high-profile fashion commissions to his name, Ryan McGinley is the subject of a major Tokyo exhibition that demonstrates a real diversity to his work, and reaffirms how far McGinley has transcended his beginnings as warts-and-all Polaroid chronicler of his late ’90s/early ’00s NYC milieu.
Consisting of private work spanning 2002 (when McGinley was still serving as picture editor for Vice magazine while attending Parsons) through to 2015, ‘Body Loud!’ alludes in title to the artist’s heavy preoccupation with the human form, and occupies two vast rooms of the Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery.
The earliest works here, are shots that look to have been grabbed off-the-cuff and in the heat of some moment only to be known by those present. They are colour prints of McGinley’s friends and contemporaries on the fringes of the Manhattan art scene : ‘Dan (Dusted)’ (2002) depicts artist Dan Colen on a city rooftop at dawn, bare torso covered in black marker scrawl and with one bloody nostril.
Similarly, ‘Lizzy’ (again from 2002) is a spontaneous-looking image of a naked young woman caught mid-leap and trying to preserve her modesty with well-placed hands and forearms. For all of its apparent caught-in-the-moment charm however, for this photo the photographer went to the trouble of bringing a mini trampoline into the club bathroom where it was shot, and it is this kind of behind-the-scenes contrivance by McGinley that Body Loud! traces the development of.
From here the work shifts to more overtly staged scenarios, both in ultra-vivid colour-blocked studios, and out into the great outdoors to situate one kind of natural beauty (the ever- naked human body) amidst another. Of the former, highlights include a triptych of 2012 photos that bring together animals (a baby deer, porcupine, and bald eagle) and anonymous elements (spread legs, hair, torso) of human forms, along with show centrepiece ‘Yearbook’ (2014) which spans 20 metres and is made up of over one hundred small-scale nude images shot against backgrounds of various colourful hues.
The great outdoors aspect of McGinley’s staged creations meanwhile, famously facilitated by road trips in which he takes his clique deep into the countryside, is represented by works such as ‘Deep Well’ (2015). With the scale of this image initially hard to gauge, what at first look like white twigs falling into a hole in the ground turn out to be a pale and skinny torso and legs disappearing head-first into well.
For a generation born in the late ‘70s and early 80s with the idealistic, ’Age of Aquarius’-style 1960s dream long pronounced dead, it’s striking just how much McGinley and his cohorts conjure up a similarly utopian vision once removed entirely from urban surroundings. Further, in almost all of McGinley’s outdoor images human figures appear minuscule and dwarfed by their natural surroundings. Given this is the same crew who with attitude aplenty occupied the full frames of McGinley’s shots a decade or so earlier, this approach might suggest the humility and softening of rough-edged character that comes with maturity.
Ryan McGinley: Body Loud!
Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery
3-20-2 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku / 81 (0)3 5353 0756
Until 10 July, 2016
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