Ryan McGinley, Jake (Fall Foliage) (2011), via Gabriel Rolt
Although it was his pointed and unabashed live action shots of young, fit nudes jumping off cliffs, climbing trees, and running down sand dunes that transformed Ryan McGinley into an a globally recognized artist, the artist’s current exhibition at Gabriel Rolt in Amsterdam, Somewhere Place, showing through May 14th, reveals a turn towards more cinematic, choreographed, Baroque imagery. The exhibit also marks McGinley’s first foray into color studio photography, and the young nudes that have become characteristic of his work have moved indoors, calling attention to McGinley’s increased use of choreographed settings and postures in his work.
Ryan McGinley’s “Somewhere Place” Installation, via Gabriel Rolt
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The press release promises images that are “dramatic and moody, full of storms and rushing rivers and night skies,” containing “moments of breathtaking beauty” with a “surreal, action-film quality.” While the exhibit as a whole is much darker and more theatrical than McGinley’s earlier work, the exhibit’s outdoor photography in particular tends towards the sublime. Although McGinley has often used natural landscapes to explore the relationship between humanity and nature, in this recent work, his wild and otherworldly rivers and forests are more brutal and less bucolic than in his earlier pieces. Some of these outdoor images, like “Midnight Flight,” recall the grandiose scale and playful sensuality of Rubens, while others, like “Tom (Queen Anne’s Lace),” are almost painfully intimate.
Ryan McGinley, Midnight Flight (2011), via Gabriel Rolt
Idyllic depictions of youthful nudity have long been a part of McGinley’s repertoire, but with this collection, he has started to incorporate darker themes in his work; his subjects are covered with cuts and bruises, and his portrayals of male and female sexuality have become harsher and less idealized. “Brandee (Kitten),” for instance, shows a young girl balancing a kitten on her breast, her adolescent appeal spoiled the scratches and claw marks marring her stomach.
Ryan McGinley, Brandee (Kitten) (2011), via Gabriel Rolt
“Brandee (Kitten)” also reveals McGinley’s new interest in animals as a subject matter. Although the fact that animals often appear in the exhibit’s more brutal images might suggest their equation with the darker side of human nature, McGinley has less complicated motivations. As he said in a recent interview with Dazed Digital, “I like to photograph animals because they’re so squirmy and surprising and cute and they crawl on you. They’re playful… It’s also funny, like watching YouTube pictures of kittens playing. Taking that silliness but making something beautiful out of it.”
Ryan McGinley, Tom (Queen Anne’s Lace) (2011), via Gabriel Rolt
McGinley’s work has depended on his ability to take silly, adolescent sexual freedom and transform it into that which is beautiful and timeless; this new collection, however, shows that he is also capable of handling the less appealing aspects of human sexuality, not only testifying to his greater versatility and maturity, but also his irrepressible desire to continually push his work into new and more fertile territory. The show will be open though May 14th, 2011.