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Ryan McGinness | The New York Times

Courtesy of the Artist

By M.H. Miller
Dec. 7, 2016

Between 2009 and 2010, the artist Ryan McGinness embarked on an endurance performance in which he hosted one party a week in his New York studio for 50 consecutive weeks. (Fifty-one, if you count the practice party that kicked things off.) This turned out to be a more brutal exercise than initially intended. Last week, during Art Basel Miami Beach, McGinness sat at a table at the Standard Hotel and reflected on this experience. It was “harrowing and stressful,” he said. “Yeah, it was awful. After the second party I was ready to throw in the towel.”

He powered through, though, and this chaotic year in his life is now documented in a new book called “50 Parties,” published by Standard Press. (“I’m not a party person,” he writes in the book’s introduction.) Each party was organized around a theme — “Vogue Ball,” for instance, or “Prom.” McGinness’s goal, according to a project statement, was “to bring back the artist’s studio space as an environment for social exchange and revitalize the practice of artist’s studio as salon.”

It was an innocent enough idea, but became more complicated in practice. Unsurprisingly, there were logistical problems — an “Autopsy” party had to be delayed because “we were having a really hard time getting a dead body,” McGinness said — and the usual riffraff. (“‘Vogue Ball’ got a little out of control.”) But there were also a few more unexpected problems. The second party McGinness hosted was called “Shoot the Freak,” based on an attraction at Coney Island that is more or less what it sounds like. The artist set up a shooting range and equipped visitors with paintball guns.

“The bar was at the end of the shooting range,” McGinness said, “So to get a drink you had to get shot.” The studio was a mess, and numerous artworks in the space were destroyed in the process as well. “A lot of people got hurt, too,” McGinness continued. “So we actually upped our liability insurance for the year. I thought paintballs were just full of paint. But the pellets are full of pigmented fish oil. It was awful. For years afterward we’d find paintballs.”

The fact that he was talking about all of this during the bacchanal of Art Basel Miami Beach was not lost on McGinness. (A few hours later, McGinness would host one more party, recreating some of the ones from the book, at the Standard; while we were chatting, there were already people setting up a large inflatable pool of Jell-O.)

For Art Basel, McGinness said, “parties have become the medium. I was even speaking with someone who had no idea what Art Basel was. They had no idea how this whole thing started, which is profoundly sad, on the one hand. On the other hand, that’s just the way it is. It’s what it evolved into.”

Not for nothing, the artist’s favorite party he threw during his year as a nonstop host was “The Labor Party” — held on Labor Day — when McGinness and his assistants “just worked in the studio, doing a lot of administrative work.”

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