As various species of artists go, Ryan McGinness seems happy playing the party animal.
In New York not so long ago he threw a party in his studio every Friday night for 50 weeks in a row. (“50 parties. 50 themes. 50 weeks” his tag line went, with themes ranging from “search party” to “prom.”) In Miami this last December he staged a show of glow-in-the-dark nude paintings at a strip club. So when it came time to think about exhibiting his work in L.A., the 39-year-old with the energy of a 19-year-old did not limit himself to galleries.
Along with planning four different gallery shows here from late May through June — featuring paintings, sculptures, works on paper and a high-concept project — he has planned “a barbecue lecture” for the Giant Robot store on Sawtelle Boulevard, art installations for both Standard hotels in L.A., and a three-night drawing performance at the hotel’s Sunset Strip location that begins June 1.
There he will camp out in a vitrine behind the front desk along with nude models, which for legal reasons will be at least partly shielded from public view. After he draws the models each night, he plans to display nearby the results, which should be, judging from previous work, more playful or even cartoonish than realistic. Then he will have a party poolside at the hotel in which guests can draw live models as well.
“I’ve held off on doing anything significant in L.A because it was not the right fit or not the right galleries. Recently a lot of opportunities have come up in L.A. So I just decided to gang them all together and make up for lost time,” McGinness said, reached by phone at his studio in New York’s Chinatown.
“I can’t imagine anyone but Ryan doing this,” says Claire Darrow, creative director for Andre Balazs, the hotelier behind the Standard. “I wouldn’t believe he was capable of it if he hadn’t done those 50 parties. He has an unbelievable amount of stamina.”
You could also say he is taking his cue from Andy Warhol, who often comes up as a point of comparison because of his interest in commercial signs and symbols, the silk-screening process, and social networking as an art form — or medium — in its own right. (A classic McGinness drawing, “Networking Is a Skill,” maps out his dense social/professional network and distills it into an abstract constellation.)
When asked about the appeal of art-fueled parties, McGinness initially struck a Warholian gosh-gee tone: “It’s just fun to share.” Later, he added that he often finds art-making and socializing interchangeable.
“It’s all the same. Sometimes we use the word ‘party’ to mean work in the studio,” McGinness said. “So, for instance, I just asked some assistants if they’d like to ‘party’ with the paintings this weekend — which is to ask if they’re available to come in and help me work on the paintings this weekend.”
L.A. gallerist Michael Kohn, who is showing McGinness’ new paintings starting May 19, sees the artist’s various social enterprises as “a way of explaining his artwork.” Kohn describes his densely layered, brightly colored, collage-style painting as a response to “the information age we’re living in, with hundreds of cable stations and an infinite amount of web pages.”
BrainDrain “Where does his visual explosion come from and why is it interesting?” Kohn asks. “Because life is a visual explosion.”
As part of Kohn’s show, McGinness is taking over four of the gallery’s street-front windows along Beverly Boulevard, near Crescent Heights. His plan is to “create site-specific installations with fluorescent vinyl illuminated with black light at night, so windows will glow as people drive by at night.”
McGinness is also working on a black-light room within the gallery to exhibit a series of acrylic paintings he calls “black holes.”
“They are rings of concentric flourishes, all in a black-light setting to force a very specific time-space experience of the work,” says the artist. “Fluorescent paint is a real-world, material experience that can’t be duplicated in a JPEG.”
At the same time, McGinness is preparing for three other L.A. gallery shows, all along Sunset Boulevard: sculptures at Prism Gallery, works on paper at Country Club and a more conceptual piece at Subliminal Projects.
The drawings show is billed as “the most comprehensive exhibition of McGinness’ works on paper to date,” showcasing his work with woodblock prints, silk-screening, lithography and cyanotypes. The sculpture show (rendered digitally above) includes female figures made of aluminum and covered in gold car paint.
The show at Subliminal Projects, a gallery run by Shepard Fairey, will consist not of McGinness’ own artwork but of corporate logos placed on the wall that are sized according to their level of sponsorship. He has done a version of this project before, also with Fairey in L.A. — a sort of art-market version of Morgan Spurlock’s “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.”
Yet an impulse to critique big business has not stopped McGinness from catering to consumer culture himself. As part of his L.A. push, for instance, he is releasing playing cards of his own design. These “Blacklight Nudie Cards” will be sold exclusively through the Standard Hotel this month through September for $35 a pack.
They are super-flashy in one respect: printed in fluorescent ink, they glow under black light. But formally these nudes look more like Henri Matisse’s geometric cutouts than Hugh Hefner’s playmates.
As McGinness puts it, “They are very simplified, iconic forms. If you’re actually expecting a deck of nudie cards, you’re going to be very disappointed.”