Suddenly, Last Summer

Brian Droitcour at Ryan McGinley's opening at Team

New York

Left: Photographer Terry Richardson with artist Jack Pierson. Right: John Waters, Ryan McGinley, and Parker Posey. (All photos: David Velasco)

I don’t know of any young artist besides Ryan McGinley who can evoke Andrew Wyeth without seeming arch or trite. Or one modish enough to conjure an opening where downtown socialites the MisShapes have to be seen to maintain cred, yet still solid enough for the New York Times Magazine’s prim photo editor to accept his invitation to dinner. His deft straddling of wholesome and hip has a broad appeal that drew a crowd to last Thursday’s opening of “I Know Where the Summer Goes” big enough to have broken a Team gallery record, or at least its fire code.

Even after I pushed through the mob to the wall to look at the pictures, my view was blocked by gawkers whose backs were almost brushing the art, surveying the mingling morass in the center of the room. There, McGinley, looking all-American in a blue suit and a tie with red hearts, greeted guests with sustained buoyancy as interns studiously recorded his every move in photo and video.

In the show itself, models perform acts of quaint mischief—lighting sparklers, doing cannonballs at the old swim hole—in a fantasy landscape where time and underwear don’t exist. John Waters, who compares McGinley to the title character in Waters’s own film Pecker, called it “very Zabriskie Point,” though I found it more chaste (even with the token crotch shot) and less urgent than Antonioni’s epic. Overall, the series is ripe with languid sincerity and deserves its title, which comes from a Belle and Sebastian song that lilts, “No one likes a smart-ass.”

Left: Genevieve Jones and MisShape Leigh Lezark. Right: Artist Edward Mapplethorpe, dealer Alison Jacques, and artist and writer Jack Walls.

The photos’ indolent tone was in fact the result of months of hard labor, during which the artist documented, as he does, antics from a cross-country road trip of his own rigorous planning. Coley Brown, one of McGinley’s gangly muses, said the artist continued photographing in Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes (shooting another model, Marcel, for the enigmatic picture Question Mark) even as a violent hailstorm broke out, and his coterie of skinny, naked people darted to avoid being struck by lightning. “I thought someone was going to die,” Brown said. Near-death experience aside, he would happily do it all again (“If I get invited,” he added wistfully). But not everyone thinks it’s a good idea. A friend told me how he dissuaded a willowy art student from applying: “Afterward, he’d be like a reality-TV has-been.” Others had more old-fashioned reasons for demurring. “I was supposed to go,” said Richard Bars, McGinley’s ex-boyfriend. “But I refused to take my pants off.”

The crowd began to thin around eight, and half an hour later, Team owner José Freire sounded his megaphone’s siren to expel the last of the stragglers. A decidedly smaller crew made their way south to the Odeon, the storied Tribeca setting of Bright Lights, Big City, which Team had rented out for the dinner. There I chatted with McGinley’s mother, learning that his artistic talent was first recognized when he took first place in a ShopRite drawing contest. He won a fourteen-inch truck. When the waiters began taking orders, I sat kitty-corner to writer Ariel Levy, who quoted McGinley at length in her article on Dash Snow for New York magazine early last year. Surely the experience of writing that tale of drug-fueled privilege prepared Levy well for her forthcoming New Yorker profile of First Lady–hopeful Cindy McCain.

Left: Ryan McGinley with Team gallery owner José Freire. Right: Model Coley Brown.

Few artists were present, though former mentors, like Jack Pierson, Jack Walls, and McGinley’s old Parsons professor George Pitts, attended. McGinley dined with Waters and Michael Stipe, their dates, and Parker Posey. While McGinley is soon to make his silver-screen debut—he has a cameo leading a gay rights march in Gus Van Sant’s Milk, about the eponymous San Francisco mayor—I doubt he was asking his famous friends for performance tips. What he really wants to do is direct, and after two or three more road trips, he hopes to start making films.

The evening climaxed when, a little after 11 PM, Freire climbed atop a banquette, turned his bullhorn back on, and gave a glowing toast to his artist. Guests lingered for over an hour more, until the youthful contingent moved on to the Bowery Electric—the bar that recently displaced the CCTV haven Remote Lounge—where McGinley ushered a small crew past security. I withdrew around 2 AM, just before a set by the Virgins, McGinley’s friends and his perennial afterparty favorite. When I started toward the door, McGinley ambushed me with a bear hug and thanked me for coming—a disarming moment, since we’d met only that night. Ever the skeptic, I wondered if I was being cajoled into a world of fandom as artfully constructed as Planet Road Trip. But as the embrace ended and I mumbled chummy congratulations at McGinley’s shoulder, I decided it wasn’t a bad club to be in.

Left: Artist Dan Colen. Right: Tim Barber and Marcel.

Left: Art Production Fund co-founder Yvonne Force-Villareal. Right: Designer Cynthia Rowley with writer Bill Powers.

Left: The Breeder's Nadia Gerazouni. Right: Artist Nate Lowman with dealer David Quadrini.

Left: Artist Cory Arcangel. Right: Team gallery's Owen Reynolds Clements.

Left: Team gallery's Alex Logsdail. Right: Ryan McGinley with The Virgins's Donald Cumming.