Lecture at PICA, 224 NW 13th, Thurs Oct 27, 7 pm
The work of Ryan McGinness occupies that precarious space between art and design. At the moment, you could check out his work at one of three solo exhibitions (Danziger Projects and Deitch Projects in New York, Publico in Cincinnati), or just visit any number of design-oriented websites to browse his many commercial products, from skateboard decks and T-shirts to a hand-stitched soccer ball that retails for $150. This one-time curatorial assistant at the Andy Warhol Museum is right at home imploding that age-old high-versus-low-art distinction.
Much like Warhol, McGinness is known for "painting" by silkscreening with a squeegee. Also like the wigged one, he has a knack for appropriating existing images. In his early work, he cribbed from kitschy clip art and stock illustrations, but now he borrows particular elements of images to give his original creations a familiar, if off-kilter, feel. So if his icons do appear somewhat subjective (unicorns and butterflies, businessmen whose handshakes sprout saplings), they're rendered in the visual vocabulary of signage. That is, those handshaking businessmen look a lot like the every-pedestrian of a yellow crosswalk sign. But McGinness' interest in these signs goes well beyond the hard edges and clean contours that make them strong graphic design. He is visually punning on "signs," for the semioticians in the audience, commenting on how cultural codes and symbols inform a viewer's approach to interpretation.
In the past few years, McGinness' works have evolved into multi-layered paintings that result in wreath-like forms of twisting lines and overlapping images. These works first appear exhaustingly ornamental, but his trademark icons are still there, partially obscured in a dense palimpsest of screenprints. This new direction shows McGinness moving into more conceptually complex territory and refining his critique of how signs and codes function. Like the overlapping images in his new paintings, they do not exist in isolation or hold readily apparent meanings. In contrast to the universal visual language he adopts, these signs and symbols are bound up in relational webs in which no meaning can be considered universal.