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First-ever mid-career survey of Barry McGee on view at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston
ICA installation of Barry McGee. Artwork courtesy the artist and Ratio 3, San Francisco. Photo: John Kennard.
BOSTON, MASS.- The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston presents the first mid-career survey of influential San Francisco–based artist Barry McGee. McGee began sharing his work in the 1980s, not in a museum or gallery setting but on the streets of San Francisco. McGee uses a vocabulary drawn from comics, hobo art, sign painting, and graffiti to address a range of issues, from individual survival to social malaise to alternative forms of community. McGee’s extraordinary skill as a draughtsman and printmaker is balanced by an interest in pushing the boundaries of art—his work can be shockingly informal in the gallery and surprisingly elegant on the street. This chronological survey of McGee’s work from the 1990s to the present traces the artist’s formal and thematic development over two decades. The exhibition features over 30 works, including rarely seen early works on paper; reassembled works from key installations; a tower of video pieces; a massive three-dimensional cluster of drawings, paintings, and photographs; as well as other recent works. Coordinated for the ICA by Jenelle Porter, Mannion Family Senior Curator, Barry McGee is organized by the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. The exhibition is on view at the ICA from April 6 through Sept. 2, 2013.

“Barry McGee is one of the most important contributors to the powerful and varied body of work that has emerged out of street culture,” said Jill Medvedow, Ellen Matilda Poss Director of the ICA. “His distinctive imagery, collaborative practice, and compassionate approach to the issues and energy of the streets have had a profound influence on a generation of artists, and we are very pleased to present the first retrospective of his work at the ICA.”

McGee, who trained professionally in painting and printmaking, was one of many artists who broke out of the confines of art schools, galleries, and museums in the 1980s and 1990s to make the city itself a living space for art and activism.

“Over the past two decades, McGee’s practice has explored a vocabulary of styles and mediums, from figurative drawing to vibrant, geometric painted panels, from piled up and tagged vans to animatronic figures that animate the gallery, to videos and 'zines," says Porter. "McGee is an absolutely towering presence in the still developing history of street art and culture."

McGee commands a staggering array of media to bring his art into being, including empty glass bottles, spray-paint cans, tagged signs, televisions, scrap wood, and metal. His installations don’t so much occupy space as they engulf it. Dizzying color patterns pour into corners and seep into adjacent rooms; walls packed with clusters of framed illustrations and images bubble out as if to touch viewers. His more recent work has brought the urban experience into the space of the gallery. Increasingly, his large-scale installation environments express the vitality of the city itself, incorporating old tires and other found elements, and often spilling beyond the frame of the gallery walls.





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