The Kids Were Alright

Selections From Ryan McGinley's Early Work, 1998-2003

By Ryan McGinley


These are photos from the fucked-up party days, from when Ryan first started taking pictures of all his crazy friends up to when he had his solo show at the Whitney Museum, which flung him like a wet young noodle into the boiling pot of the art world.

To dig these up, Ryan had to pore through his archives—hundreds and hundreds of black binders lining the shelves of his studio from floor to ceiling. “I was so psychotically obsessed with documenting my life,” he said. “All I wanted to do was make pictures of anything and everything. One of my favorite things to do back then would be to go out and get completely demolished and take tons of photos. Then I’d get the film developed and they were like evidence of whatever I had done that night because I usually couldn’t remember any of it.”


 
SELF-PORTRAIT (CAR ACCIDENT), 1998
It was one of the hottest days of summer. I was riding my bike with my shirt off and I got hit by a car. My ass and back got dragged along the pavement for a good ten feet. The screeching noise those tires made haunts me to this day. It was my fault, but the driver was so freaked out that he gave me all the money in his wallet, close to $400. I was psyched! My back still has fucking gravel in it.

 
 
DONALD AND EARSNOT, 2003
It was a crazy summer for Earsnot. He was just starting his five-year probation (which recently ended in March!) and he got run over by a truck while skating on Delancey and Orchard. He was in the hospital for four weeks before he could have surgery, and then he was stuck at home for another four weeks healing. I needed to get him out of the city so we went up to a collector of mine’s chateau in Brattleboro, Vermont. Snot was so bummed he was missing Gay Pride Weekend in the city and kept yelling at me. That’s Donald Eric Cumming sitting next to him. I had been doing a trampoline series that summer and in this photo they were watching Leo Fitzpatrick do flips while drinking beer at the same time.

 
 
DAN (9/11), 2001
This is the artist Dan Colen on the night of 9/11. We rode our bikes down to see if we could help out. The streets were covered in dust. The fire department had just started flooding the streets. I remember finding bits of papers and documents scattered around. The truck in the background explains it all. That’s how everything looked. I remember seeing huge stacks of Poland Spring bottled water for the soldiers that had set up base down there. It was all so bizarre. If you lived downtown you could smell the dust for a few weeks afterward.

 
 
DASH (DELIVERY), 2002
This is a typical night in 2002 for me. Dash Snow on the horn with our dealer. The couch he’s sitting on used to belong to me and my roommate Teddy. We gave it to him as a housewarming gift when he moved to Avenue C with his then wife, Agathe Snow, a bunny named Gary, and a parakeet named Sergeant Slaughter. The couch was rumored to have a missing bag of blow lost in it. One night we tore it up like archaeologists looking for a precious artifact. We never found it. A few years later Dash planted a tree in the hole we dug out of it and sold it as a sculpture to Charles Saatchi.

 
 
OLIVER (3-D GLASSES), 2002
I met Oliver at the Cock—the sleazy old version on Avenue A, not the new one that took over the Hole. We always felt a little bit weird telling people that so we would make up different stories about how we met, but in actuality it was a plain-and-simple cruise. It took me all of about five seconds to go up to him and profess my love. Within minutes we were back at my apartment making out on the roof. I remember taking his Polaroid that evening and thinking that it was all too good to be true and I’d never see him again. Luckily I did and this was our first date. I bought him a ten-speed as a present and we took acid and rode around Manhattan wearing 3-D glasses that made every light turn into a different kind of star. 

 
 
SEMEN SPERMS, 2001
Semen Sperms is a downtown-NYC graffiti legend. The guy has wandered the streets since the turn of the Stone Age. Before I met him I would hear stories about how weird he was—how he liked to smash windows by karate-kicking them and how he had tens of thousands of records and knew everything about music ever. I was fascinated by him. Finally our lives crossed paths and I couldn’t believe that this big doofy 70s-rocker was the sperm guy. His extensive knowledge of randomness would mesmerize me. The sperm was and always will be my favorite tag.

 
 
ERIC (SALVATION ARMY), 2001
Donald Eric Cumming is now the lead singer of the Virgins. Back when this picture was taken, he went by Eric. It took me a while to make the transition into calling him Donald. One day he just decided to switch and that was that. This was taken at the Salvation Army in Chelsea. The Chelsea branch has all the nicest clothes and bedding. All the dead fags from the neighborhood—their wardrobes end up there. Ralph Lauren, Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, the works. I used to steal bed sheets from there. One day we saw this guy that had a Hitler moustache shopping there. Donald slowly maneuvered over to the man so I could snap a photo of them. Then I said, “Hey Eric, look here!” They both looked up and I got it.

 
 
SPARKY, 1999
When I used to live on Seventh Street in the East Village, me and my oldest friend from Jersey, Teddy, sold weed to pay our way through college. When I started to date Marc, every time he would come over Teddy would say, “Hey Marc-y Sparky, let’s spark one up!” Anytime he walked through that door, they lit up a number. Fucking stoners, man. Everyone started calling Marc “Sparky” and that’s all we call him now.

 
 
RYAN (HEAD-BUTT), 1999
That’s not my blood. I was making out with my main squeeze on a stoop in the East Village and some macho jock dickhead walked by and called us fags. I don’t think he expected me to get up in his face. We scrapped a bit and then I head-butted him and could feel his nose break on my forehead. We ran for blocks, laughing at the top of our lungs, and then jumped into bed, where my boyfriend took this picture of me.

 
 
MARIANA (BATHROOM), 1998
Mariana was my first muse. She’s the most beautiful girl I’ve every photographed. The energy this girl had. She was not afraid to say exactly what was on her mind. She’s the kind of girl you go to the movies with and she talks back to the screen. We were always up to no good and getting in trouble. In this picture we were at a party at some kid’s parents’ house and she was ransacking the bathroom, racking up some Kiehl’s and Crème de la Mer from their granny.

 

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