NEW YORK — Last year, Ryan McGinley, then 25, became the youngest artist to have a solo show at the Whitney Museum. His photographs — oft compared to Wolfgang Tillmans’ and Nan Goldin’s — of his claque of East Village friends riding their bikes, masturbating and vomiting, caused something of a sensation. How did he follow an already auspicious debut? By getting out of the city.
McGinley spent last summer taking photographs in Brattleborough, Vt. — a friend has a house there — and 20 images from that period make up “New Photographs,” which opens on Sunday at P.S. 1.
This story first appeared in the June 24, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“I kind of felt like I wasn’t so inspired in New York anymore,” says McGinley, who moved in April from his fifth-floor East Village walk-up to a loft in Chinatown. “Going up to the woods was really refreshing and liberating. It gives people that freedom to be naked and just run around and not have the worries of being in New York.”
The change of location also changed the subtext of McGinley’s work. The first series of photographs at the Whitney, called “The Kids Are Alright,” cheerily examined his social scene with its casual sex and drug abuse. His new images are darker; they have a gravelly “Blair Witch” ambiguity. “There’s a haze, some kind of mist or smoke in each image,” he says. “There’s a real sense of atmosphere, more like fantasy.”
And though his friends still appear, this series is no longer about them. “When I started making photographs, my friends were what was available to me,” McGinley adds. “Now I’m more interested in creating beautiful pictures, an image you could look at and not know where it is.”
McGinley continues to photograph for The New York Times Magazine — he just finished an underwater shoot of the U.S. Olympic Swim Team for an upcoming issue — and this summer he hopes to advance his art further by delving into filmmaking.
“The way that I organize my photographs and photo shoots, it’s almost like directing,” he explains. “I’ve gotten to the point where I think it makes more sense to make moving images. “
— Marshall Heyman