When we last saw Ryan McNamara, he was clad in silver leggings and learning hip hop dance moves on a stage erected at the top of the stairs at MoMA-PS1. This was the opening of “Greater New York,” and the artist was inaugurating a part of his performance piece, which has proceeded every day for the past four months, and will continue to run until the exhibition closes on October 18. If you haven’t already witnessed it, the work consists of Ryan practicing an element or discipline of dance—ballet, hip hop, stretching, repetition—for an hour-and-a-half each day, seven days a week, somewhere in the museum.
COURTESY THE ARTIST AND ELIZABETH DEE GALLERY, NEW YORK.
A lot has changed since that last time—not least of all that Ryan’s in much better shape from all of the dancing. He’s been featured alongside the likes of Dakota Fanning and Marc Jacobs in the September 2010 Vogue spread entitled “On the Town,” which features the most notable cast members of New York’s upcoming Fashion’s Night Out. He is being flown to Moscow to perform at the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture as part of the performance festival organized by Klaus Biesenbach in connection with the exhibition 100 Years of Performance. And he’s been asked by Louis Vuitton to blur the boundaries between fashion and art at their 57 Street flagship on Friday night, by creating a performance piece in connection with fashion week. In other words, Ryan McNamara has become an international art sensation.
The performance at Louis Vuitton had been described to me as a parade, so I asked Ryan to clarify what that meant. He said that it was more of a “showboy production line,” with 30 male dancers snaking through the two-level store, dancing for two hours to a loop of old Hollywood chorus line music created by McNamara himself. They’ll be outfitted in a rendition of the tuxedo topped off with a black bow tie and white gloves. As they dance, they’ll pass Louis Vuitton bags around the store, to be stenciled and presumably sold.
One can only imagine that most guests at the event will feel like they’re on the set of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, surrounded by a never-ending cascade of dancing men who will coax and enchant them as they wander through the store.
I asked Ryan what was next on his plate, and he told me that he didn’t really know. Due to the nature of performance, he often is invited to do pieces only a few weeks before they open, a lead time that would be unthinkable to most visual artists. But the crunch, he says, allows him to be in the moment. He has to act on what he’s thinking at the very second he’s asked, and this gives his pieces the spontaneity and guilelessness that make them so appealing.
So what is Ryan McNamara thinking about right now? “Rihanna’s “Rude Boy” and warfare tactics,” he told me. IFingers crossed that someone asks him to execute a piece before he loses that thought.