The visit of painter/designer Ryan McGinness last Thursday brought a refreshing glimpse into the inner workings of the consumer art movement that has infected boutiques and galleries globally. McGinness was poised and confident as he walked the painfully stylish audience through the rather speedy five years that have catapulted him to international fame.
From blatantly requesting applause during a second entrance to sheepishly admitting his inclination to include “naughty bits” into his work, McGinness’ casual, succinct approach left the audience laughing more than a couple times. It was nice to see an artist whose work is so direct in its concept – and whose peers are notorious for taking their work very seriously – be so frank and humble about his own ideas. McGinness has proven himself time and again to be one of the most innovative young artists in the U.S., and his lecture left me feeling hopeful about the movement.
While the behind-the-scenes information on McGinness’ many ambitiously designed instillations was a design nerd’s dream, the lecture became really interesting during the question-and-answer portion of the lecture.
In the last century art and commerce have become volatile companions, resistant in their symbiotic relations. From Duchamp’s readymades to the Phillip Morris-sponsored super exhibits of the ’70s, to ESPO’s $1500 raincoats, art’s reliance on commerce, and subsequently its corporate interests has been a point of comment, contention and compromise. Seeing hip designers and graf-artists working for corporations, releasing $100 action figures and T-shirts has been a sore spot for many young artists, and McGinness has been no exception.
His response when confronted with questions about his consumer work, his goods or his ability to employ assistants was as straightforward and casual as his lecture. As he explained his practices, his decisions to stay away from corporate interests, his desire to create one-of-a-kind pieces while still having something affordable to offer the mass-market, it became apparent that McGinness was an artist whose integrity functioned without dirty secrets, without easy compromises.
The desire to survive making art without selling out is a contentious point among young artists of all persuasions, particularly in Portland. As we watch many of our local heroes and bands getting ready to make the national jump it is a constant fear that what makes us so great will be diluted by a larger market. McGinness’ presence, his honesty and integrity were a great reassurance. It’s nice to know that people still survive making beautiful things without doing it on the backs of others.