The sidewalks on Grand Street in front of Team Gallery are narrow. So narrow that when two people intersect, they find themselves nearly embracing as they maneuver through seconds of accidental intimacy, avoiding eye contact to soften the blow.
Inside, Ryan McGinley’s latest series, Mirror Mirror, serves an intimacy that doesn’t relent.
McGinley took the photography world by storm with his 1998 series The Kids were All Right. At only 25, he earned a solo show at the Whitney. His work teems with a casual beauty, sloughing superficial grandeur for a deeper, greater moment.
For Mirror Mirror, McGinley gave cameras and rolls of film to those in his life--mentors, friends, acquaintances--along with 20 mirrors to use however they chose. From their shots, McGinley chose one image for each.
“It was really wild to think of the photographer as curator, mentor, and encourager to the models in the sense of the trust he had in them to not only fulfill the project but without his direct influence,” said Annabel Hope, a former subject of McGinley’s. “It was so intimate.”
The results quite literally reflect the uniqueness of each subject, exposing them on their terms to culminate in a still life of each person. The subjects are all nude, but that’s not what makes the images seem so intimate (nor is it an uncommon theme in McGinley’s body of work). It’s what the viewer sees past the mirrors--an iron on a shelf, an Angela Davis painting, a teddy bear discarded to the floor, a poster proudly emblazoned with the words “BURN IT DOWN”--that completes the rhapsody of each subject’s reality.
In harmonious opposition to this realness is the constant reminder that each work is a photo of a reflection; the reality is an extra degree away from what the viewer sees. The subjects play with the mirrors in ways purposeful and whimsical, reflecting smiling faces into mirrors onto mirrors into infinity, segmenting their bodies with reflections, multiplying themselves from different angles, maintaining eye contact while looking away.
It’s a playfulness that I noticed--as I smoked one of my disgusting cigarettes outside the gallery--constantly coaxed people from the street into the space, evoking curiosity and even fear. One couple’s young daughter dragged her mom into the gallery. Once the two had exited briefly after, the mother defended, “She wanted to go in.” “She might want to do drugs one day, would you agree to that?” the father who’d remained outside interrogated.
With that, Mirror Mirror was everything expected from a Ryan McGinley show, even with shots not directly taken by McGinley himself. There was celebration, effortless spectacle, playfulness and just the right amount of fear.
Mirror Mirror’s exhibition at Team Gallery ended on September 29. The photobook is set for release on October 16.
Evan Brechtel is a queer writer living in New York. You can find his body of work at www.evanbrechtel.net. @EvanBrechtel.