MCA innovates with youthful installations

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Tim Barber, is Ryan McGinley’s friend and he posed in front of the polaroids McGinley took of him                 Photo: Korina Rojo



On Feb. 10, a warm Saturday night, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver opened its newly graffiti-covered doors to the grand opening of three exhibits of counter culture art, each taking its place on one of the museum’s three floors. At 6 p.m., VIP members walked through the recently erected, faux spray painted walls and smoke machines to view personal ephemera of Jean Michel Basquiat, millions of Polaroids from Ryan McGinley, and experience the history of graffiti.

The opening of this exhibit has been highly anticipated since its announcement months ago. Jokingly ordering an un-enforced dress code of “downtown,” the MCA is maximizing its central urban location, a supposed mixture of CBGB’s filth punk-meets 80s-90s hip hop-meets New York City’s East Village. Needless to say, there was a myriad of well-dressed art lovers in leather jackets and classic suits.

Ryan McGinley installed the entire second floor of the MCA with “The Kids Were Alright,” a collection of  large-scale photographs and 1,500 Polaroids he took of his friends that lined the expansive walls of the entire floor. McGinley is known for his pioneering of the intimate documentary lifestyle that  comes too easy to “Generation iPhone,” but was much harder to capture two decades ago. McGinley’s work is playful, personal, and much more powerful than an average Instagram account.

McGinley is the youngest artist to have an exhibit at The Whitney, now at the age of 39—though he really looks at least 10 years younger—he dives back into his time living in the city and ruminates on the friends he made by looking at the person he has become.

“This is the family that I got to recreate,” McGinley said sweetly into the microphone during the exhibit’s opening remarks. “I come from a big family, one of eight kids. I just feel like when I moved to New York City I got to recreate myself and be the person I really wanted to be. And I found all these beautiful people that became my cast of characters.”

McGinley’s work is described as gritty, jarring, reckless, and bold. Wall- sized prints of his close friends bleeding from their noses after getting into a fight, throwing up from a night of drinking, snorting cocaine, or having sex are just a few of the abrasively alluring pieces on the second floor.

“I fell in love with them all, I fell in love with them with my camera, and we were on adventures every night and we only had our world.” McGinley said. “We weren’t really part of any other world except for our own, we stayed out all night until the sunrise and slept all day. All of these amazing people invited me into their lives and I got to photograph their beautiful love affairs, and I got to have my first boyfriend and torture him with my camera and photograph every aspect of our lives.”

One of the most exciting and intriguing things of MCA’s grand opening is its intense intimacy. There were friends and family of each artist in attendance, and guests could watch people picking the Polaroids of their 20-year-old selves out of the hundreds of shots on the wall.

“Basquiat Before Basquiat” exhibits work and ephemera from New York City artist Jean Michel Basquiat, born in 1960 in Brooklyn. All of the work displayed were paintings, drawings, collages, notebooks, photographs, and even clothing Basquiat had made (and wore) taken from the time that he lived with Alexis Adler in a small apartment in the East Village.

Adler, who documented nearly every second of her experience living with Basquiat, provides intimate remnants of the great and eccentric artist who tragically died of a heroin overdose at the age of 27. This archive of Basquiat’s art and his life provide insight into the mind of the artist before he reached the height of his fame in the early 80s.

While Basquiat lived, his creative tendencies were often taken out on household appliances and the streets of New York, tagging buildings and walls in any open space around him under the name of SAMO©. This unique opening and exhibition provides a far more comprehensive understanding of the life that Basquiat led and the context of his surroundings and how it  impacted his work and career. There is a slight sense of melancholy meandering among the work and genius of such an eminent artist who died so young, but a dizzying glee that comes alongside it.

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