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Ratio 3 is pleased to present I can’t, We can, an exhibition of photographs and videos by Ryan McGinley. For his fifth solo exhibition with the gallery, McGinley debuts recent portraits, editorial photographs, works from the beginning of his career, and an array of video works. Together, the artworks comprising the exhibition trace the central throughline of McGinley’s diverse photographic practice; from his earliest candid images capturing his cohort of queer graffiti writers and skaters, through the past two years spent documenting LGBTQIA2S+ protests throughout the streets of New York City, community remains the unifying theme of his work. I can’t, We can reflects the creative subcultures and queer communities that have defined and inspired McGinley’s image-making for over two decades.

The exhibition begins with a suite of previously unexhibited images, pasted floor-to-ceiling along the gallery’s entry walls. Arranged into a dense, repeating grid evocative of street poster advertisements, each image is overlaid with the stylized moniker “IRAK,” a New York-based graffiti crew founded by artist Kunle Martins, the first openly gay black graffiti writer in NYC. Given the pervasive homophobia of the overwhelmingly straight, male graffiti subculture of the late 90s and early 2000s, IRAK’s inclusivity and acceptance of queerness was unprecedented, and foundational to the ethos of McGinley’s practice as his work has evolved and expanded into other media and contexts.

Editorial photography has been a longstanding and important facet of McGinley’s practice. Originally published in magazine profiles, the portraits of actors, musicians, and activists that appear throughout this exhibition depict people whose work and visibility as public figures reflects—and advocates for—cultural shifts toward queer representation and inclusivity. A portrait of Hunter Schaefer, an actress and trans rights activist, hangs alongside an image of musician and actor Dominic Fike, celebrating their on- and off-screen relationship. From Lil Nas X, whose stardom reflects Hip-Hop’s increasing inclusion of queer identities, to Qween Jean, a beloved activist and vocal advocate for trans visibility, McGinley’s portraits celebrate icons from popular culture and smaller communities alike, while placing his editorial work in dialogue with other ongoing projects. 

In the main gallery, a set of four monitors cycles through a series of video portraits, the subjects of which address the camera directly, sharing the origin stories of the tattoos adorning their bodies. Individually, their tales are charming, earnest, and generous; collectively, their words speak to the empowerment and self-actualization of choosing images that represent their sexual identities, and the magic of relinquishing oneself to the process of a spontaneous D.I.Y. stick-and-poke. On the facing wall of the same gallery, a related suite of black-and-white photographs depicts provocative, playful, and intimate tattoos; each image is a celebration— and reflection—of the bodies that carry them.

The final gallery features a sequence of three recent videos focused on activism within the queer community. The first is a compilation of the Stonewall Protests, documenting weekly demonstrations spanning June 2020 through June 2021 throughout the streets of New York City led by Black Trans Activists. The second video, TGNC Activist & Organizer Upstate NY Road Trip depicts the same community on a weekend road trip retreat. The last video features Jade Guanaro Kuriki-Olivo, an artist known as Puppies Puppies, with her sister, Lexii Foxx, on Indigenous Peoples Day in 2021. McGinley presents these videos as a documentary of activists, and as an educational platform to raise awareness for the causes of their respective organizations.

Throughout the exhibition, McGinley traverses photographic traditions, striking a singular balance between the candor of an activist-as-photographer and the choreography of portraiture. By eschewing distinctions of genre, and working freely across media, McGinley emphasizes the subject matter of his photographs—people and the communities they form—above all else. I can’t, We can is a homecoming and an homage to the many communities that define his life and work.

Ryan McGinley (b. 1977) lives and works in New York. His photography has been exhibited internationally at institutions such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Bergamo, Daelim Museum in Seoul, Kunsthal KAdE in The Netherlands, MUSAC in Léon, Spain, and MoMA PS1 in Long Island City. Group appearances include the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, MoCA in Los Angeles, The Brooklyn Museum, Washington’s National Portrait Gallery, National Portrait Gallery in London, and the Fondazione Prada in Milan. In 2017, McGinley’s early work was the subject of a major survey at the MCA Denver. He has produced over a dozen monographs, and his photography has been featured extensively in art, culture, and fashion publications.