The Art of Ryan McGinley

November 8, 2014

During the last couple of weeks, reading our Provoke! articles, Widewalls community has had a chance to enjoy a number of erotic art photographs and analyze the work of their creators: from the glamour of the famous fashion photographer David LaChapelle (read David LaChapelle’s Erotica), to the black and white photographs of Helmut Newton (check out Newton’s Nudes) and bondage inspired erotica of Nobuyoshi Araki (find out more in our article Tie Me Up!). And just like in all of those instances, this week we are presenting the work of another prolific photographer, with a distinctive style and practice. The beauty of his nude models evokes numerous contemporary questions on concepts of youths, body, subculture and eroticism. This is the art of Ryan Mcginley

The Art of Ryan McGinley video mcginley’s
Ryan McGinley, Mollie, 2013

Who is Ryan McGinley?

Ryan McGinley is an American photographer, born in 1977, living in New York City and working across the entire United States. He started making photographs sometime during the end of the 20th century and is probably best known for being one of the youngest artist to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art (eleven years ago, at the age of 25). During the last decade, the artist’s practice has changed, most notably in the sense that he wasn’t looking for that perfect photograph as much as he began constructing the “perfect moment” he could then capture. One of his greatest artistic inspirations is reflected in the persona and work of Terrence Malick. McGinley himself has become a source of inspiration for many young artists, and certainly in the arena of street art and urban art. He had described his youth days as being a part of a group of outsiders – people who were devoted to skateboard subculture and street art. One of those people was contemporary artist Dan Colen (check out a conversation with Ryan McGinley and Dan Colen on street art and counter culture). Maybe the best way to describe the artist’s beginnings concerning photography is reflected in his own words (for GQ Magazine): “When you grow up in a family of ten people, you learn to be an observer […] And when you’re gay, you learn to really be an observer.”

mcginley’s The Art of Ryan McGinley
Ryan McGinley, Lexie & Rachel, 2010

On New Media

Although the artist believes that his career path would have been drastically different if he had created in the period when online communities exploded, he thinks that photography can evolve in a positive sense, in the light of platforms such as Instagram or Tumblr (find out more about the changing nature of online art expression in our article Is Instagram a New Artistic Medium?). The new generation of young people are on the constant mission of creating and uploading a large body of images, which can have an almost immediate response within the digital space of art. The question is, how will this affect those who are focused on creating art through the medium of photography. McGinley believes that having a strong and individual voice is still the most significant factor for becoming a photographer, even with the tidal wave of creativity that has become possible with social media…

mcginley’s The Art of Ryan McGinley video
Ryan McGinley, Kensie, 2012

The Art of Ryan McGinley
Ryan McGinley, Sam, 2011

The Art of Ryan McGinley
Ryan McGinley, Brandee, 2012

The Art of Ryan McGinley
Ryan McGinley, Jorge, 2012

The Art of Ryan McGinley
Ryan McGinley, Tim & Dakota, 2004

All images courtesy of

The Art of Ryan McGinley: Beauty and Subculture

Ryan McGinley has focused a great part of his work on outdoor practice. In this regard, the artist’s photographs were a particular “investigation of moments.” This paved a way for the transformation of his methodology and McGinley started constructing situations which would become his photographs. This rendered his work to be a creation of a pseudo-reality in which the artist could develop a distinctive visual language a specific aesthetics. McGinley believes that with this he could have a strong response for the body of work he had been creating.

The Art of Ryan McGinley
Ryan McGinley, Meryl & Elyse, 2010

Yearbook Exhibition

In the period between September 7th and October 14th 2014, at Team Gallery, Ryan McGinley had a show titled Yearbook. The exhibition consisted from a single artwork, a collage of a large number of the artist’s photographs, depicting young nude models. Although this represented an enormous energy of meaning, each of the photographs could be read autonomously, enabling the viewer to access single moments. The photographs had been created in the studio, deviating somewhat from the earlier practice of the photographer. With the candy-colored backgrounds and a vinyl “feel” to the surface of the imagery, the whole presentation reflected a certain Pop Art quality. In the end, it is certainly interesting to ponder the fact that the artist had meticulously selected, cut and pasted each and every photograph, making the viewer to realize the overwhelming nature of the process and understanding more clearly the title of the exhibition…

The Art of Ryan McGinley
Ryan McGinley, Marieke, 2010

Youth Subcultures Today?

Finally, let us address the question of the artist’s intentions when it comes to the photographs where he depicts nude models. Apart from the presentation of the beauty of human body, one which imposes itself on the viewer indubitably, is there a certain connotational level which the artist is trying to convey? Arguably, these photographs can be perceived as certain representation of symbolism contrasting the omnipresent “selfie generation” within the arena of popular culture. And, within the vastness of public space, oversaturated with hollow media discourses, there is an abundance of conflicting messages concerning the notions of body, sexuality and erotica… Paradoxically, on the one hand, a presence of offensive portrayals of the body, in terms of gender and race issues seems to be overlooked, while, on the other, the nude human form in all its beauty continues to be publicly repressed. Perhaps, in the art of Ryan McGinley (and the Yearbook piece especially) we could find a form of answer and escape – young people, reminiscent of the youth cultures of the 1970s and 1980s, shown on backgrounds of vibrant warm colors might just suggest a certain reminder that the notion of youth subcultures is needed today more than ever…

The Art of Ryan McGinley
Ryan McGinley, Ann (Windy Truck), 2007

The Art of Ryan McGinley
Ryan McGinley, Tessa, 2014

The Art of Ryan McGinley
Ryan McGinley, Jasper 4, 2010

The Art of Ryan McGinley
Ryan McGinley, Chantel, 2010

The Art of Ryan McGinley
Ryan McGinley, Devan, 2014

All images courtesy of

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