Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses (250–400 words) to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Danica Willard Sachs reviews Ryan McGinley’s YEARBOOK at Ratio 3 in San Francisco.
For his latest project, YEARBOOK (2013), Ryan McGinley has wallpapered the interior of Ratio 3 from floor to ceiling with latex Inkjet studio portraits of nude youth, all on poster-size paper and mostly in color. The result makes for an oppressive and chaotic visual experience. McGinley first started making studio portraits in 2009 as a way of auditioning young models to appear in his photographs. The resulting images marked a stylistic departure from the depictions of youth romping through pastoral settings depicted in McGinley’s better-known work. With their moody grays and spare, minimal quality, these 2009 portraits were used by the artist to establish his own aesthetic within the lineage of photographic portraiture.
In YEARBOOK, the current iteration of McGinley’s exploration of studio portraiture tropes, his subjects pose in front of candy-colored backdrops, performing for the camera with a nonchalance bred from the comfort and familiarity that emerges through sessions that typically involve hundreds of shots of each model. McGinley closely crops his images around the lithe, often tattooed and pierced bodies of his ambivalent and irreverent subjects, recalling both Neil Winokur’s life-size, deadpan studio portraits made with a large-format view camera starting in the 1980s and Andy Warhol’s 1960s series of silent film portraits, Screen Tests. If the experience of viewing portrait photography is typically characterized by a heightened sense of one’s own voyeurism, then McGinley’s campy, immersive installation amplifies this self-awareness of looking, underscoring contemporary pop culture’s pervasive fetishization of youth. The artist’s compulsive attention to his subject, mirrored in YEARBOOK’s installation, perpetuates this fixation. Overall, one leaves the gallery with an uneasy feeling; McGinley’s subjects, on the other hand, clearly seem to be having more fun.
YEARBOOK is currently on view at Ratio 3, in San Francisco, through October 19, 2013.
Danica Willard Sachs is a freelance curator and writer based in San Francisco.