Ryan McGinness Exhibit in NYC Richard S. Chang

At first, the name of Ryan McGinness’s exhibition, “Black Holes,” at Phillips de Pury & Company in Manhattan, seems like a deliberate anachronism.

Black holes? Yeah, right. Most of the 20-some circular pieces on display are so vivid they seem to be charged by electricity. The conceit is the same for each: symmetrical arabesque patterns overlapped in varying color combinations like a Mensa Spirograph. Phillips has even positioned 10 of them to face outward so they are visible through the glass from the High Line, giving the park some color during the winter months.

Those are the black light paintings, which are maddening and monumental. Though entering the exhibition, one first encounters three black paintings (one has an overlay of gray). It’s a subdued room. Just beyond it is the first hint of color: a painting that’s predominantly yellow, orange, green and blue. It’s lit like an ancient talisman, and seemingly glows, transmitting a sensation of treading into the Temple of Doom.

About Ryan McGinness

  • Raised in Virginia Beach, VA
  • Studied at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA
  • Worked at the Andy Warhol Museum as a curatorial assistant

There’s definitely an exploratory process in viewing the exhibition, which is held (until March 8) in a confined but well-laid-out space. You follow the trail of color and swirls until you find yourself in complete darkness. McGinness, who was a guest judge on Bravo’s “Work of Art,” says each work contains layers of screen-printed concentric “event horizons,” defined as the “point in space-time before which everything disappears into the black hole.” Nowhere is that more evident than standing in front of the black light paintings.

McGinness also exhibited black light paintings at a strip club at Art Basel in early December, but those were based on his new saucier design language based on the female form. These are more old school; some go back to 2008. McGinness has updated them with a “site-specific” backdrop of vinyl flourishes, which add a bit of grace to what seems, at first, a mess. The overlapping patterns are familiar but are so overwhelmingly layered as to become completely incomprehensible. But there is a beauty in the confusion. And when you give in to that beauty, you begin to see all of the painting’s details, with one seemingly leading to another – and presto, you’re sucked in. And like that, the name of the exhibition becomes clear.


Follow Richard S. Chang on Twitter: @r_s_c




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