Whitney, 2003

Whitney Museum of American Art to present ‘The Kids Are Alright’: Photographs by Ryan McGinley

Ryan McGinley makes large-scale color photographs of his friends and lovers, a group that forms part of New York’s Lower East Side youth culture. The Kids Are Alright: Photographs by Ryan McGinley, the first museum exhibition of McGinley’s work, will be presented as part of the First Exposure series in the Sondra Gilman Gallery on the Whitney’s fifth floor from February 1 to May 18, 2003.

McGinley, 25, began visiting Manhattan while in high school in New Jersey to spend time with a group of skateboarders. After enrolling at Parsons School of Design in graphic design, McGinley took up the camera and began photographing his crowd and his lifestyle. In 2000, he produced a fifty-page book of these photographs titled The Kids Are Alright. This desktop publishing venture yielded 100 copies, which McGinley sent to the subjects of his pictures, to photographers he admired, and to art and culture magazines he read. Today, his images are frequently featured in magazines that came to know his work through his early book.

Sylvia Wolf, the Whitney’s Sondra Gilman Curator of Photography remarks, “Each new generation discovers sex, drugs, and danger as though theirs is the first to experience adventure or rebellion. Unlike many past photographs of teen culture, McGinley’s images lack irony, boredom and angst. There is a disarming delight McGinley and his subjects appear to take in their lifestyle. With images that are charged with spontaneity, candor, and exuberance, McGinley adds new energy to the genre.”

McGinley works in the tradition of photographers who focus the camera on their own generation. Nan Goldin, for instance, began chronicling her circle of friends in the early 1980s, and Wolfgang Tillmans has spent more than a decade photographing European youth. McGinley uses photography to break down barriers between public and private spheres of activity, making the sensational appear banal and drawing attention to the everyday. His subjects are willing collaborators. Drawn from skateboard, music, graffiti and gay cultures, they perform for the camera and expose themselves with a frank self-awareness that is distinctly contemporary. The camera is both a part of their lives and an accomplice in the construction of the world they wish to create for themselves. The results form a portrait of a generation that is savvy about visual culture and acutely aware of how identity can be communicated through photography.

Wolf notes, “The title of this exhibition comes from McGinley’s early self-published book and from a 1979 film documentary on the rock band The Who. This awareness of and homage to a previous generation is characteristic of McGinley. While he asserts the individuality of his own generation, he does so with an appreciation of the past.”

The mission of the Whitney Museum in all disciplines is to collect the finest examples of American art from the 20th and 21st centuries. In keeping with Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s own willingness to take risks on new talent, the museum also collects and exhibits work by young artists who are in the early stages of their careers. With this in mind, First Exposure was launched in 2001.
McGinley’s photographs have been featured in numerous venues in print and in galleries. Recent exhibitions include solo shows in Milan, Paris, and Toronto.