Paintings within Paintings Hit Disorienting New Show '#metadata'
By Beckett Mufson
Paintings within paintings hung within a studio within a studio when I visited Ryan McGinness's workspace before his new show, #metadata, shipped to its resting place at Los Angeles' Kohn Gallery. Opening there on March 19, the series embraces a superflat geometry reminiscent of old Japanese paintings, the logical conclusion of his 1999 book flatnessisgod—a favorite of Japanese artist Takashi Murakami.
In each of his new paintings, beautifully silkscreened woodgrains representing the floor of his studio sprawl out beneath stylized paintings, t-shirts, and skateboards hanging on flat walls or propped up on flat buckets. The paintings of #metadata are packed with information, context about the workspace that produced the painting itself, like a visual manifestation of an image caption. Seeing the scene within the studio it reproduces is dizzying, but that's simply one layer of the complex statement about how we consume art that McGinness has created with the series.
“Presumably what you’re seeing is paintings of paintings, which include the studio floor, and the buckets on which the paintings sit, but in the end they’re not actually reproductions of paintings, they’re primary production of paintings. Hopefully they exist in both states, as assumed reproductions and as primary productions," he explains to The Creators Project. While his depiction of the studio is fairly accurate, the paintings and skateboards hanging on his superflat walls never existed. #metadata looks like his studio, but it actually exists in a fictional space.
The concept goes deeper, McGinness continues. "Furthermore, when you see a reproduction of that painting, most often on the screen as a jpeg, you might even be even more confounded by what you’re seeing.” Many of the fictional paintings within the paintings have X's in the top right corners, a symbol meaningful for those browsing a website, more than than at a studio or a gallery.
McGinness' art over the past two decades has worked to codify images and ideas into their simplest, most iconic forms, from his Women series to the Mindscapes and Black Holes made from dozens of carefully iterated visual concepts. With #metadata, he attempts to do the same to the act of creation itself, symbolizing his creative process as the studio, and representing all of its complexity in the simplest forms possible. His tools, his work, the space which he's inhabited since 1997, are all represented within these works, including details like the importance of the internet, merchandising, money-making, and the conceptualization process itself. There are even paintings from #metadata within #metadata—does your brain hurt yet?
The whole concept comes to a head within Kohn Gallery itself. McGinness has cannibalized several of his retired silkscreens and printed new artwork right on top of them, as he would a canvas. Subject and tool are one, but then he takes it one step further, bolting the massive pieces together to form a maze, which will hide more individual artworks as well. Tool, concept, artwork, space, and artist become one. “The work folds in on itself,” he says. “Information about the information."
In packing all that data into highly self-referencial images, McGinness is attempting to solve a problem with the way we consume art. “#Metadata came from this frustration that we experience most work through reproduction," he says. "A lot of people don’t even know what they’re looking at in terms of material and scale. And that’s a source of frustration for me because the work is not merely a retinal image. And I think metadata enriches the understanding of what it is that you’re looking at. And I think that a lot of people, as a result of the information being absent, forget that they’re looking at a reproduction.”
Alas, we only have reproductions to share with you on our site today, as nobody's invented a way to embed an actual painting onto a computer screen—though this deep dive into Hieronymous Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights is pretty close—but you can check out a glimpse of #metadata above and below.