Strip off

A new exhibition of Ryan McGinley’s work celebrates the power of nudity in nature
Art | 10 March 2020
Text Finn Blythe

McGinley, Dread Dam, 2020, c-print

Above image: McGinley, Dread Dam, 2020

Biblical parables, Bronze Age figurines, Botticelli’s paintings, the recurring theme of nudity in nature is universal and timeless. Throughout art history, the unclothed body has been a mainstay, where its symbolism ranges from life, vitality and innocence to heroism and spiritual emancipation.

Photographer Ryan McGinley has repeatedly tapped into this well of symbolic meaning for his images. In his 2017 book The Kids Were Alright, naked bodies rampaged through fields, forests and frozen landscapes, while in Whistle for the Wind (2012) they traipsed along dusty American freeways with total abandon.


A new exhibition of McGinley’s work, arriving at Marlborough Gallery in London, explores the photographer’s on-going preoccupation with shooting nudes with a number of new works taken this year. Printed in monochrome and colour, these photographs range in scale and finish, from C-printed framed works to satin commercial banners.

McGinley’s subjects find themselves in typically dramatic settings: traversing cliff sides, scaling trees, communing around fires – the experimentation of light, setting and scale are all part of the photographer’s comprehensive exploration of the body in space.

Returning to the confines of his studio, the exhibition features hundreds of portraits from McGinley’s ongoing Yearbook series plastered across the gallery’s ceiling. This vinyl mosaic is a record of young creatives and McGinley’s relationship to them.

In a third space, McGinley presents his take on the contemporary incarnation of nude portraiture, exploring the revealing compositions and choreographed poses of sitters photographing their reflection. Mirror, Mirror arose from McGinley giving cameras to a close group of friends with the brief of photographing themselves in a selection of mirrors at home. The resulting images transform the traditional power dynamic of nudes, negating the artist’s view in favour of the sitter’s and transferring agency in the process.

McGinley, Beans, 2020, c-print

Ryan McGinley: Pretty Free is on at Marlborough Gallery from March 21 to April 25.

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