An excellent installation by Ryan McGinness occupied the north side of the eighth floor of 129 Lafayette, NYC, from August 16 - 31. McGinness wrote a much-hyped book called flatnessisgod, the how-to angle of which is offputting--it purports to be a design manual when it's essentially just his portfolio--but give him credit for finding a way to get his work out there. The installation appeared in a massive, well-installed group show organized by artist Lin-i Liu (and various invited curators) in an empty Chinatown building, in one of those "the realtors are trying to sell it, let's give it to artists for a few weeks" arrangements; McGinness's artwork filled one wall, spilled onto the floor, and partially covered the windows. The subject matter was corporate logos--perhaps a couple hundred in all, very cleanly rendered in solid colors (in Illustrator?), crisply printed on sheets of peel-and-stick vinyl, and affixed directly to the wall. The pastiche recalls Ashley Bickerton's identity-festooned wall sculptures and Michael Bevilacqua's retro-Pop paintings (without the former's nasty '80s cynicism and the latter's Yellow Submarine grooviness), expanded into a temporary, room-sized installation. Like Bevilacqua, McGinness rotates the labels this way and that, overlaps them, and pays no attention to their "official" scale or color. Most interestingly, he sneaks in a lot of "street content" in form of graffiti and handbill images, which he gives the same slick, high-end treatment. COST/REVS may or may not have made it into the mix, but Andre the Giant did (by the way, has anyone noticed the Andre vs Gary Coleman stencils that've been appearing on sidewalks lately?). Best of all, McGinness painstakingly recreated the huge, semi-coherent block capitals painted by an ambitious street artist on a building a couple of blocks from 129 Lafayette; because McGinness's stick-on version half-covered the windows facing the graffitied building, one could look "through" the corporatized letters and compare them with the originals. McGinness's work invites the inevitable "we're living in a haze of information, blah blah," discourse, but what's most fascinating about the installation is how enticing the logos (and graffitos) are. We're surrounded by these images every day--the Glidden oval, the French's Mustard flag, anonymous "tags" on subway platforms--but McGinness momentarily strips them of their context and presents them as pure, intoxicating design. Even the evil Adobe A looks good.
I thought it was odd how much the curators of Ryan's piece played up the fact that those logos and graffitos where all visible from the windows of the space; made me wonder if Ryan had played up that angle to them. Seemed to me like just a nod to site-specificity and not really integral to the work - to me, hearing that repeated by everyone who saw the show made the piece more self-conscious than it should have been. One of those nice-if-the-people-notice, but shouldn't be advertised elements.
Is that what they were claiming? I may have seen that in the press release, but I guess I didn't believe it, or want to believe it. I noticed the one bit of graffiti that I mentioned through the window (how could you not?) but the rest of his "logos" just looked like random signage. Like I said, the claim of "ultimate site-specifity" didn't appeal to me enough to mention. If it really is true, it was an impressive feat of data mining--I assume he'd have to use a telephoto lens or binoculars, get sketches or pictures, then go back to his studio and re-create all the information. But ultimately, I agree with you, the research angle is less interesting than the interplay and manipulation of the designs.
I also agree with you that, assuming the story's true, it'd be better for the viewer to "discover" the signs outside the windows, but as a practical matter, who's going to keep that kind of information quiet? The art world LIVES for such narratives. The reason the curators should have stayed mum in this case was that the viewer's attention was best focused on the logos, not looking out the windows.
i played soccer with ryan yesterday. (he could really use to work on his stamina.) he happened to mention that his live/work studio is on the top floor of his building and is right about where the show was. so it seems possible that he could view the graffiti and such right from his studio. also it would seem to me that if some of the art was placed over the window but that you could still see through to the true images outside that this was a self conscious attempt to draw your attention to the parallels of interior and exterior juxtaposition. whether that was the idea of the artist or curator i couldnt say. if i remember next time i see him, ill ask.