The marginalia inscribed by Albrecht Durer in the Prayer Book he illustrated for the Emperor Maximilian, which are full of witty grotesquerie and tendril-like, hyperexpressive arabesques, constitute perhaps the last grand statements of the genre. Ryan McGinness, as evidenced by recent concurrent shows at Danziger Projects and Deitch Projects, revives the practice by making typographical flourishes and stylized shapes of the kind traditionally confined to the edges of a page into his work's central feature. In so doing, he suggests that there is no difference in either aesthetic value or emotional depth between supposedly peripheral doodling and grand central statement.
However, McGinness's manner is rather more quixotic than Durer's: He dispenses with text altogether in favor of baroque decoration, excited lines and rich colors converging in spontaneous pseudologos with a legibility all their own. Looking carefully into the tangle of shapes, one finds figures and scenes that suggest a narrative, an idea that's confirmed by titles such as Tools Celebrate Their Usefulness and Lucky Cows Drink Milk from the show at Deitch (all works 2005). McGinness is not just making ornamental abstractions; he wants to make a statement. Unfortunately, though, the statements sometimes seem lost in the prettiness.
McGinness claims that he wants "to communicate complex and poetic concepts with a cold, graphic, and authoritative visual vocabulary," yet while he can certainly boast a degree of technical expertise, his works are hardly cold. In the installation at Deitch, the radiant colors of the numerous tondos painted on and projecting from the walls made this abundantly clear. …