by Rachel Heidenry
On a rainy Saturday in Soho, the Team Gallery was packed. It could have been an opening reception with the number of young gallery-goers enthusiastically walking around the space taking pictures, pointing, mingling. The art they were there to see was Ryan McGinley’s “Yearbook,” a collection of over 500 studio portraits of naked men and women pasted onto the gallery’s walls and ceiling. Yet despite the showing of people, the exhibition itself was trite and uninspired.
Rather than add yet another critique of the irksome display of youthful bodies posing in front of brightly colored backgrounds, I give the space over to Ken Johnson, who, let’s face it, unravels the show and its downfalls to perfection. In his 260-word review in The New York Times, Johnson explains why “Yearbook” is downright annoying. He also proves why sometimes you just have to let the old-timers do the critiquing:
“Nudity in public imagery is a knotty topic. These days, it’s commonplace in mainstream movies and on cable TV. But when female celebrities’ private naked pictures are publicly exposed, it’s a scandal. On the other hand, for many young people, displaying themselves naked for cameras seems to be an anti-puritanical expression of freedom from socialized shame.
Ryan McGinley is an annoying photographer of shame-free nudity, known for pictures of his nubile young friends, male and female, cavorting unclothed outdoors. This exhibition presents a striking installation of more than 500 studio photos of about 200 naked men and women in their 20s, posing against colored but otherwise blank backgrounds. (Some images are black and white.) All are printed vinyl sheets; these are glued to the gallery’s walls and ceiling, overlapping at the edges and thus covering everything but the floor like wallpaper. The enveloping patchwork is both captivating and irritating, like the décor of a hip clothing boutique.”
“Looking at individual pictures, you see that all the subjects look healthy, fit and, in varying ways, attractive. The old, obese, disabled, infirm, sick and otherwise imperfect are absent, but every possible ethnicity seems to be represented, and there are lots of tattoos, piercings and sculpted hairstyles. Some of the women flex their well-developed biceps, some lie languorously. Men’s dispositions are similarly varied.
Everyone seems to be having fun; a mindless spirit of mild, polysexual eroticism prevails. Whatever Mr. McGinley’s intentions may be, the exhibition dovetails neatly with a capitalist economy that turns the right kind of bodies into visual commodities. It’s depressing.” – Ken Johnson
Yearbook is on display at Team Gallery through October 12th.