Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi 'flatnessisgod'

By Mary Walling Blackburn

SEPTEMBER 27, 1999: 

flatnessisgod: art + design + process + picture plane theory + x, y by Ryan McGinness (Soft Skull), paper, $24.50

Territorial pissing has evolved from a simple lift of the leg to a hot iron brand on the moaning cow's flank to a modern day love affair with the logo. The trend-lovin' American may sport a Tommy Hilfiger on the chest, a Calvin Klein on the ass, or simply reduce a whole era to this year's summer fashion (get an eyeful of those legions of Capri pant wearin' mamas peopling our nation's streets). "Stupid symbols. These hold the place for the real," states author Ryan McGinness.

McGinness is suffering in that classic love/hate sort of way. Two-dimensional representations and reductions of the real are his forte. His slick and crafty distillation of images to linear figures and symbolic curves brings him bucks from the big boys (IBM and MTV, for example). Yet his personal and non-corporate work charts an ambivalent relationship to the hand that feeds him. He asks, "Why show depth of field on a flat surface?" He casually states that "a lot of Art is boring," and he intimates that nothing can really be represented. It's all a flaccid and flaxen illusion. This book straddles both worlds: McGinness, the corporate sell-out, and McGinness, the clever artist. It's an amazing sourcebook for a graphic artist, a consummate tagger, or the artistically curious.

McGinness is large on example and spare on text. He manages to go farther than simply portraying his schizophrenic corporate and non-corporate art. He reveals the absurdity of corporate imagery by hybridizing the symbols we digest from birth -- Toucan Sam and the Kool Aid man become one. The universal female restroom silhouette is morphed, relocated, and dislocated. McGinness transforms a graffiti tag into a corporate symbol and suddenly the wedge between gang identity and corporate identity no longer exists.

McGinness is very good, but silly enough to state that "no part of this publication may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever" without his permission. He, of all people, should know that art is thievery.

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