Critics’ Picks

View of “Ryan McNamara: Gently Used,” 2015.

New York

Ryan McNamara

Mary Boone Gallery | Uptown
745 Fifth Avenue
January 8–February 28, 2015

The stage is a medium in itself for Ryan McNamara. While this has been gestured at in McNamara’s earlier output—including his 2012 show “Still” at Elizabeth Dee Gallery, which considered the production and circulation of performance images—his latest exhibition uses theatrical accoutrements, specifically the spotlight, as formal devices, expanding the breadth of how the gallery can frame art as performative. A cluster of moving-head LEDs stand like antic sentinels at the center of the gallery, highlighting—and sometimes black-lighting—the show’s sculptures, “performance plaques,” and wall-bound reliefs in timed intervals.

The exhibition, curated by Piper Marshall, is titled “Gently Used,” referring to the worn materiality of the objects on display. Taken from McNamara’s performances, previously donned costumes—invariably a mix of futuristic flair and camp comedy—are repurposed through sculptural means, providing a second aesthetic life to the indexes of McNamara’s ephemeral live art. For instance, in Misty Malarky Ying Yang, 2014, fabric outfits from McNamara’s recent High Line performance are encased in colored Plexiglas in a freestanding swinging panel display. And in Unitard Stretch (Purple), 2014, seven unitards are pulled across wooden stretcher bars, producing an interlaced, entwined composition. Statically installed in the gallery, these works and others stand as tongue-in-cheek follow-ups to McNamara’s sprawling performances.

Images from McNamara’s productions make their way into many of the works as well, including the decoupage MEƎM (Silver), 2014, whose titular palindrome reflects back on itself and references the narcissism of the Internet age. Invoking the choreographed spectacle of McNamara’s award-winning performance MEƎM: A Story Ballet About the Internet, 2013, an overload of photographs of figures from the dance float atop the canvas’s Factory silver background. More posed than poised, the gestures captured range from Thriller-esque hand claws to awkward, twirling bends. Every seven minutes the exhibition’s spotlight hits MEƎM with a black light, soaking the work and its immediate surroundings in an ultraviolet glow. For McNamara, even the white-walled gallery is a platform for shifting, immersive effect.