Beautiful Losers

2008, Movie, NR, 90 mins


While not every artist Aaron Rose profiles in his documentary about one colorful corner of the 1990s New York Art scene is "beautiful," they're all "losers" and proud of it.

Fresh out of adolescence when they first arrived in NYC (none are natives and few still live there) and still smarting from the disenfranchisement that drove them to find comfort and community in punk rock, skateboarding and minor acts of vandalism like graffiti, artists Barry McGee, Mike Mills, Jo Jackson, Geoff McFetridge, filmmaker Harmony Korine and Rose himself actively embraced their marginalization and valued the imperfections of what art-world insiders dubbed "outsider art." To the late Margaret Kilgallen -- a key part of the group -- real beauty lies in the part of the work that's "off." Coming together on Manhattan's Lower East Side at a time when the blighted neighborhood was fast becoming safe for a new white bohemia, the loose collective of faux-naif painters, filmmakers, graphic artists and musicians found each other at Rose's Alleged Gallery, a storefront gallery/rumpus room/crash pad on Ludlow Street that hosted parties and eventually mounted au courant exhibitions that helped bring art-school versions of skateboard graphics, graffiti and punk-rock flier imagery to the mainstream. In addition to graffiti, many of the Alleged crowd also demonstrated a strong appreciation for elements drawn from the worlds of comics and advertising, working with strong lines, bright colors and ironic slogans on a scale that wouldn't look out of place on the side of a building -- legally or otherwise. Inevitably some, like Mills and McFetridge, would make a smooth, perhaps transition into highly lucrative corporate advertising, putting their art in the service of selling consumers Volkswagens and cans of Pepsi One. Rose's film will probably appeal to friends and fans of the artists whose affected unconcern with the "mainstream" extends to a complete absence of any voices other than the Alleged artists themselves, and their own critical analyses don't extend far beyond "rad" and "fun, for sure." Some of the art is probably interesting, but Rose's own video-influenced filmmaking style leaves little time for inspection or reflection. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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