New York

View of “Ryan McNamara,” 2015.

View of “Ryan McNamara,” 2015.

Ryan McNamara

Mary Boone Gallery | Uptown

View of “Ryan McNamara,” 2015.

“This guy,” says Ryan McNamara, holding up a small black-and-white photographic cutout, “was a contestant in a dance contest I held in Buenos Aires. The entire dance floor was full of 150 people all melting on top of each other and rolling all over each other.” The fond recollection, and the frenetic clip that follows it, appears in a video on McNamara’s website in which the artist introduces his practice, a singular blend of image- and object making, dance and performance, choreography and participation. McNamara’s recent exhibition “Gently Used” may have seemed like an odd fit for this uptown space (it was curated by Piper Marshall, formerly of New York’s Swiss Institute) but functioned nevertheless as a useful, compact primer on his high-spirited methodology, which melds an immersion in technology with an affection for the handmade, a studied interest in props and documents with a passion for the off-the-hook live spectacular.

An exhibition of static artworks by an artist identified so strongly with performance was always going to be a tricky proposition. How to avoid the deadening, for-fans-only effect that displays of documentation so often have, and the inevitable sense that “you had to be there”? In McNamara’s case, the answer lay in avoiding the straightforward record altogether, opting instead for reworkings of costumes and other items previously used onstage (and that may well end up there again). Seemingly anxious that the space might still need livening up a bit, the artist also augmented the standard gallery lighting with looming theatrical spotlights that added fleeting bursts of color and brightness. Finally, however, there was enough going on in what the lights were trained on that the insistence on extra razzmatazz was superfluous.

McNamara’s best-known live presentation is perhaps MEƎM: A Story Ballet About the Internet, which premiered in 2013 at Performa 13 and was restaged at Art Basel Miami Beach this past December, and several of the works in this exhibition were related directly to that piece; others were derived from Misty Malarky Ying Yang, an unlikely sounding 2014 High Line commission for which the artist interpreted Jimmy Carter’s 1979 “Malaise” speech as a dance production. The provenance of the other artifacts in “Gently Used” was harder to determine, but this was ultimately unimportant—these are works that demand to be experienced and considered on their own merits. McNamara’s aesthetic has an endearingly scrappy quality, and though he employs a catholic range of materials, forms, and references—many or most to his own practice—none feels too hermetic or fussed over.

At Mary Boone, this casual energy was especially striking in works such as five entries from the artist’s “Hand to Foot” series, 2014–, a row of disembodied limbs topped and tailed by the titular appendages, which arch from the wall in a gleefully hyperextended take on Bruce Nauman’s From Hand to Mouth of 1967. McNamara’s “Performance Plaques,” 2014–, are similarly exuberant; in one, a confetti-flecked pair of sweatpants pulled over a panel ends in a green hand that clutches a multicolored bundle of cables; in another, a striped shirt, also wrapped around a square panel, grabs for the viewer’s collar, its mannequin hand sporting an immaculate French manicure. It’s the artist’s clear affection for such details that rescues his project from becoming a too theoretical take on gender and the body, sexuality and performativity, transforming it instead into an ultraviolet disco/ballet that, when it doesn’t try too hard, sweats anarchic glamour.

Michael Wilson