Ryan McGinley Likes to Hug Animals and Wild Out

What you see is what you get with Ryan McGinley—no high-falutin concepts, pretentious doublespeak, or deep-seated pathology. His photographs of naked young things frolicking in nature don’t suggest a parallel lasciviousness, just as his portraits of friends hanging out in his apartment don’t claim to be anything other than that.

Two simultaneous solo exhibits of new work launching this week at the original Team Gallery and its new second location are just as self-explanatory. The first, Animals, is a series of studio portraits in which live animals are paired with nude models, just a couple of god’s creatures hanging out the way he intended—in the buff. And the second is Grids, consisting of three giant grids filled with photos of young concert-goers blissing out to one of life’s simple pleasures, music.

In both shows, the images are large, colorful and a joy to look at. Here, Ryan McGinley gives a glimpse into their making…

Where did the idea for staging two concurrent exhibits come from? Seems like a lot of work.
Team Gallery opened a second space on Wooster Street last year. It’s right around the corner from its Grand Street space in Soho. I’m the first artist in the gallery to have a double show. I’ve been working on the Grid project for about four years now, traveling all over America and Europe to different music festivals. The Animals have been in the works for nearly two years. I’ve never exhibited my photographs in a grid presentation or displayed an entire show of color studio images so they both feel very new to me.

Actors warn never to work with animals. Which was the most challenging critter to direct?
Yes, that’s true, you can’t direct animals and that’s what I love about them. They are out of control, wild, and they do what they want. Shooting in the studio you have control over how everything looks. It’s completely artificial and usually feels staged. I wanted an element that created chaos, a sense of spontaneity, a little controlled weirdness. The ibex [goat] created some turbulence by tearing up the set the minute he walked onto the colored paper. The marmoset used all parts of the [model’s] body like a jungle gym.

If you could be any animal, existing or extinct, what would it be and why?
A spider monkey, which was my favorite animal to photograph. I wanted to take it home with me. I was so sad parting with it after I photographed it. I like that they are highly agile. They communicate their intentions and observations using postures and stances, and their diet consists primarily of ripe fruit and nuts. Seems right up my alley, kinda the way I lead my own life. They also have disproportionately long limbs and their tail functions as a fifth arm. I just love the way they move and I love they way they hug me. Their little body on my chest and their long arms wrap all the way around my back. It’s amazing.

In Grids, you photographed enthusiastic teenagers at concerts and musical festivals. Are you still a kid at heart?
My mom breaks out into singing and dancing at any given moment. My father acted so silly well into his 80s. He’d say to me, “Growing old is mandatory. Growing up is optional.” The subjects in my photographs are a representation of my spirit. I love their soul, it’s a meaning that I understand. I’m trying to capture a feeling that speaks to me. Musical performances let you lose control. They let you scream and jump and wild out.

I imagine you’ve been to a lot of concerts. What’s your most life-changing concert moment?
I saw Stevie Wonder in Austin City Limits this past year. The most beautiful experience is closing your eyes and dancing to music, that’s what I want my photos to feel like.

Animals, 83 Grand Street; Grids, 47 Wooster Street. Both exhibits run from May 2 to June 2. Joint opening reception: May 2, 6-8 pm. Visit Team Gallery

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