• Ryan McGinley Photographs 1999-2015
  • 2015-05-30T00:00:00+02:00
  • 2015-08-30T23:59:59+02:00
  • Kunsthal KAdE’s summer exhibition is a major overview of work by American photographer Ryan McGinley (b. 1977, New Jersey, US). The show will include works from every series and period in the photographer’s career, from the gritty snapshots of his early life in the urban underworld of late-1990s Manhattan right through to his recent, highly aesthetic ‘road movie’ photographs of young nudes shot amid the untamed nature of the rural United States.

Artists: Ryan McGinley

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Over the last 15 years, Ryan McGinley’s photographs have come to symbolise what is now known as the ‘hipster’ or ‘indie’ generation. Ryan McGinley came to adulthood in the late ’90s, in the then still unruly skateboard and graffiti culture of the Lower East Side area of New York’s Downtown Manhattan. He had his first encounter with a camera as a graphic design student in 1997 and immediately began obsessively photographing everything in sight. He was a ‘photoblogger’ avant la lettre, producing paper ‘zines’ for distribution among his friends. At first, his pictures showed his own immediate world: friends with whom he partied the night away, the art scene in which he moved, the urban subculture of which he was part, and the music world in which he hung out. He focused on what he saw around him, presenting the sex, the drugs, the high jinks, the petty crime and the night life just as it was. His pictures were shot in living rooms, bathrooms and railway tunnels, on roofs, in cafes and out on the streets. 

Nudity was always a regular feature, but in the early 00s it became Ryan McGinley’s main subject. The shift was triggered by a trip he took to the state of Vermont in 2003. He spent the summer with a group of friends, staying at a holiday home lent to him by a collector friend and took photographs of his companions in its rural surroundings. The nudity of the models, the ‘idyllic’ landscape and the carefree and ebullient atmosphere of the resulting snapshot-like photographs were to become the components of McGinley’s signature style. The relaxed playfulness of the images suggests complete spontaneity. And to some extent the poses were indeed spontaneous. But they always sprang from an idea and a manipulated situation. McGinley compares it to skateboarding, where endless practice is required to make a trick look smooth and completely mastered. At that time, Ryan McGinley was taking hundreds of photographs to find out what worked and how to capture a situation in the most striking image. After that, it was chance, the unexpected, and on-the-spot improvisation that produced ‘the crucial moment’: something that resembles Henri Cartier-Bresson’s ‘decisive moment’, but is the product of a situation generated by endless repetition over time. The images are therefore both staged and spontaneous.  

The trip to Vermont showed what could be achieved and led the way to five ‘summer road trips’, ranging across the United States and producing the images at the heart of McGinley’s oeuvre. These trips were undertaken between 2005 and 2010 and involved groups of hipsters travelling in a couple of vans. Initially, the participants were simply McGinley’s close friends but later they included models – preferably ‘ordinary’-looking boys and girls – scouted via studio sessions.

For his ‘Moonmilk’ series, McGinley worked for some time in a cave in Idaho, experimenting with coloured lights in the cavernous spaces. In another series, he photographed fans at Morrissey concerts. Then, around 2010, there was a series of portraits with wild animals. In ‘YEARBOOK’ – to be included in the show at Kunsthal KAdE –McGinley displays hundreds of his studio portraits in the form of an installation covering entire walls. 

The world of Ryan McGinley is a pseudo-reality: a modern-day paradise that is happy, liberated, carefree, naughty, free-spirited and bohemian. Despite the occasional sharp edge – the odd bruise or black eye – it is never dreary or depressing. More like Johan van der Keuken’s ‘Wij zijn 17’ (‘We are 17’) or Ed van der Elsken’s ‘Love on the Left Bank’ than Nan Goldin’s grim picture of the Lower East Side underground in the 1980s or Larry Clark’s merciless exploration of a self-destructive group of youngsters in Tulsa (Oklahoma) in the 1970s.

The varied American landscape that McGinley uses as a setting is not just a backdrop; he sees its presence as a homage to his country’s wealth of stunning natural environments. The White Sands desert in New Mexico is one of his favourite places; he returns to it constantly and it has never been omitted from any of his road trips. Movement is a striking feature of his photographs. His models are frequently caught in motion: running, falling, dancing, tumbling, flailing their limbs, swimming or climbing. The action gives the images a cinematic quality. It creates not only a sense of spontaneity, but greater scope for contingency, endowing the photographs with a dynamism impossible to achieve in fully staged fixed poses. 

The forthcoming overview at Kunsthal KAdE is to include around 80 works on loan from private collections in the Netherlands, England, France, Germany, Belgium, Norway, Austria and Ireland. The ‘YEARBOOK’ installation will fill a single wall in the main gallery. Sigur Ros’s music video ‘Varúð’, directed by Ryan McGinley, can be viewed in the video projection space and a selection of ‘behind the scenes’ shots will be on display in the separate education area.