All the Naked Spelunking You Can Handle

August 26, 2009 · Print This Article

Ryan McGinley, Moonmilk

Ryan McGinley, Moonmilk

Ryan McGinley will exhibit a new series of photographs titled Moonmilk next month at Alison Jacques Gallery in London. McGinley and a group of models/friends/collaborators went cave exploring aka spelunking in the nude (nudity is an essential aspect of McGinley’s approach to picture-making, so there’s nothing unusual about this aspect of the work).  The resulting images are breathtakingly beautiful–Edenic, even, despite the underground setting–each of them classic McGinley in their portrayal of timeless youth, freedom and, importantly, in their emphasis on adventure. Indeed, when McGinley was interviewed by Bad At Sports, he spoke of the enduring influence of children’s books on his work, particularly those that feature brave young kids setting out to explore the unknown. (I’ve always loved those types of books, too; the Wizard of Oz series by L. Frank Baum being my all-time favorites–I still read them before going to sleep when I’m going through a particularly stressful time in my life).

Images from the Moonmilk series have been ping ponging around the Internet lately, and when I  saw them I was immediately reminded of Miru Kim’s ongoing forays into various subterranian systems, including the Paris catacombs and the New York city subway. Kim’s images feature her own nude body as the lone figure in these landscapes. Usually, though not always, Kim goes into these places entirely on her own, without the use of an assistant.

McGinley’s photographs are more artfully composed than Kim’s are, more mysterious and more expansive in their evocation of a hidden world waiting to be explored. Overall, they’re just more “More.” Kim portrays little about these cryptic worlds as being magical, even when she’s posing in front of a modern-day “cave painting” of a starry night sky (one that’s most likely been painted by an otherwise homeless underground denizen). Instead, she’s interested in physically exploring an urban unconscious whose decrepit inhabitants and landscape have been “deleted,” as she’s put it, or otherwise repressed, like the scary monsters of childhood.  Kim herself looks like a frightened animal in a lot of her shots: body crouched, clinging awkwardly against the wall as she painstakingly navigates these treacherous spaces.

The reasons why McGinley chooses to photograph his models nude is fairly obvious, given his overarching areas of interest; but Kim’s choice to represent herself this way is more puzzling and problematic. In interviews she’s explained that her use of nudity is an attempt to make her image less time and culture-specific, but that kind of logic doesn’t really hold up given the loaded ways in which we already view the female nude in photography and elsewhere. For me, her decision to pose nude only makes sense when the photographs are viewed as a kind of performative image-making a la the work of Ana Mendieta.

Despite their shortcomings, there is something deeply powerful about Kim’s underground explorations that makes them more provocative and ultimately of greater interest to me than McGinley’s undeniably lovely ones. For one thing, there’s an actual story behind each of Kim’s images to be unearthed in the history of the place she’s temporarily inhabiting. McGinley’s are suggestive in regards to narrative, but their impact is largely mythic and iconic in nature. They’re about FREEDOM, ADVENTURE and BEAUTY as they apply to those slim-limbed caucasian twentysomethings who still have the time to travel around with and participate in McGinley’s undoubtedly life-affirming projects. But even more compelling is the matter of the sheer guts it takes for a woman (or anyone, really) to explore such places on her own, never mind the nude part.

McGinley’s photographs do inspire a certain sense of yearning, but for me, that desire feels uncomfortably similar to the kind that makes me want to go out and buy stuff to make my life (and me) look better. It’s a desire that will always be unfulfilled. Kim’s photographs, despite their sometimes clumsy literalism, make me think about the truly mind-expanding things that can happen when a shy young woman chooses to go out adventuring all on her own, into exactly those types of deep, dark, fairytale-type places that everyone is always telling you not to go into, or else.

Or else what?

Listen to Ryan McGinley interviewed by Brian and Patricia on Episode 141 of the Podcast. Miru Kim gives a talk on her “underground art” on the web video channel TED here.


Ryan McGinley, Moonmilk


Ryan McGinley, Moonmilk






Happy Four Year Anniversary, Bad At Sports!

August 26, 2009 · Print This Article

thiebaud4Tap tap tap.

Is this blog thing working again??

This week’s podcast marks Bad at Sports’ four year anniversary. Four years of weekly podcasts, people — not one missed show in 208 episodes. So incredible. On a personal note I want to say thank you to Duncan, Richard, Amanda, Tom, Patricia, Brian, Mike, Mark, Kathryn and everyone in front of the mike and behind the scenes who puts these shows together each week. I’ve only met a handful of you in person, but you’ve all kept me company, made me laugh out loud, nod my head in agreement, and make strange faces on public transit at one time or another. I’ve even had some heated arguments with a few of you–all in my head, of course. Point is, each week’s episode never fails to keep me fully engaged, and that’s been especially important for me as a Chicago-area newbie. Through their weekly podcast, the BaS crew provides a friendly entree into Chicago’s art scene, which is notoriously difficult to map. Their weekly chatfests highlight the most interesting artists, curators, critics, and cultural practitioners in Chicago and around the country (and, thanks to Mark, in Europe as well) . What’s so great about this particular podcast is that it makes you feel like you’re part of the conversation just by listening.  Bad at Sports represents everything that’s unique and truly great about Chicago — they’re a super-smart, unpretentious, no bullshit kinda crew. So if you read the blog but haven’t listened to many of the podcasts–try it, you are guaranteed a good time.  And if you happen to be new to Chicago, I want to especially encourage you to listen each week, and delve through their 208 episode archive. Start with those episodes that tap into your own particular interests (I guarantee that you will find more than one) and go from there. And don’t forget — this art historical audio treasure-trove is absolutely free to access–though no one will mind if you’re moved to donate every now and then.

Please check out this week’s episode on The Stockyard Institute. Then, go explore a little! Below are just a few of my favorite shows from the archives (which I’m still working my way through) — please share yours in the comments!

Chris Ware

Larry Rinder; Part 1, Part 2

Michelle Grabner, Part 1; Part 2

Rodney Graham

Meg Cranston

Paddy Johnson/Art Fag City

Edward Winkleman

Ryan McGinley

William Powhida

Tony Feher

Gavin Turk

Mark Staff Brandl

Derek Guthrie

Wesley Kimler aka The Shark

Lane Relyea

Miles Fisher – This Must Be The Place: Music Video NSFW

August 25, 2009 · Print This Article

Miles Fisher is an actor that has had many roles over the last few years first in God’s & Generals and most notably the parody he did on Tom Cruise a few months back. He also is a musician and the video he did for his latest song, a cover of the Talking heads “This Must Be The Place” is both a great remix and a killer video homage/parody of American Psycho. Needless to say if you have seen the film this is a video that is not safe for work environments but take a look.

Personas: Visualizing Your Digital Footprint

August 25, 2009 · Print This Article

PersonasOver the years many people have created data scrapers to collect and display in an interesting way the data that matches your name or search terms on the net. Year after year they get more cleaver and better. The latest of which and 2nd that I know of to come from M.I.T is Personas. Personas takes the data that it collects about you and parses and categorizes the data it finds to create a kind of Karyotype Taxonomy (somewhere in the world Duncan’s ears are burning) of where your influence or activities lie.

So have fun check it out and share your results.

Chicago Galleries Toughing Out Recession, See Hope in Upcoming Season

August 22, 2009 · Print This Article

The Chicago Tribune’s Sunday edition includes a lengthy article by Mark Caro and Lauren Viera on on how Chicago’s art galleries are weathering the recession.  According to the Trib, many gallery owners in the River North area are reporting that business took a downturn last summer and has stayed that way so far. Yet a number have also seen enough positive economic activity of late to feel glimmers of hope about the future.

“Compared with New York, where The New York Times reported in June that more than 20 galleries had closed, Chicago’s leading art districts have remained relatively stable. River North, the most established gallery area, has seen some businesses move or otherwise constrict their operations, but the bulk are still standing. The West Loop has suffered a few closings, while empty storefronts dot Pilsen‘s developer-designed art district.”

The article notes that Chicago galleries are using various recessionary strategies to stay in business. David Leonardis offered a buy-one-get-one-free sale earlier this summer, while other galleries have also offered special discounts. Still others, like Zolla/Lieberman, are highlighting more modestly-priced works for collectors feeling gun-shy about spending a lot of money during financially anxious times. And in line with what’s happening nationally, dealers who specialize in high-end artists, like Richard Gray, have found the market to be as strong as its ever been for “really rare, really fine, highly exceptional works of art.”

The arts district in Pilsen has not fared nearly so well, with numerous ‘For Rent’ signs on storefronts. Also highly worrisome news: UIC’s non profit I space Gallery may be in trouble. Its private foundation support “dried up,” and director Mary Antonakos is quoted as saying she’s worried the space will close.

It should be noted that although the Trib’s article includes numerous interviews with Chicago dealers in various media and price-points, it’s noticeably thin on accounts from dealers outside the River North area (the piece does include a quote from Carrie Secrist, whose gallery is located in the West Loop, but none from her neighbors Tony Wight, Kavi Gupta, Monique Meloche or Rhona Hoffman–prominent Chicago dealers all).

In the end, however, a gallerist’s actions probably speak louder than his or her words. The fact that all of the above-mentioned dealers are planning strong new shows to inaugurate the new fall season suggests that everything remains on track, for now anyway. Chicago art dealers appear to be hanging in there–holding their breath, to be sure, but hanging in there. Read the Tribune’s full story here.