Thursday, March 11, 2004

Beautiful Losers

Nearly 50 men and women - artists inspired
by skateboarding, graffiti, punk and hip-hop - have been brought together for the
Rosenthal Center's show

By Marilyn Bauer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Beautiful Losers
Untitled piece from artist Margaret Kilgallen.
(Provided photo)
Beautiful Loswers
Untitled piece from artist Thomas Campbell.
(Provided photo)
Beautiful Losers
Untitled piece from artist Chris Johanson.
(Provided photo)
Beautiful Losers
Untitled piece from artist Tobin Yelland.
(Provided photo)
Beautiful Losers
Untitled piece by artist Clare Rojas.
(Provided photo)
Barry McGee
Photo of artist Barry McGee.
(Provided photo)
In the upstairs-at-Walgreens space that formerly housed the Contemporary Arts Center, a bearded man in an orange

T-shirt hammers at a partially-painted wood structure. Wood filings and scraps are everywhere, as are power tools and gallon upon gallon of Deer Park water. Planes and angles slowly emerge into the semblance of a geodesic dome. Chris Johanson, 34, stops working and hops onto a stacked pile of beams, ready to talk.

He's a beautiful loser.

Another man with a bald head and a tattoo of a hand making the peace sign on his arm rockets in. He's been sent out for more spackling, but has come back with the wrong kind.

"The dude power-lied to me," says Brendon Fowler, 25. "He told me it was the same kind."

Fowler is a beautiful loser, too.

The men huddle, closing ranks. They are protective. A community of outsiders making it big. Along with almost 50 other artists, they are part of the new show at the Rosenthal Center: Beautiful Losers: Contemporary Art and Street Culture, opening Saturday.

Billed as the first large-scale group exhibition of works by artists inspired by skateboarding, graffiti, punk and hip-hop, Beautiful Losers is a loosely curated show, a multimedia exhibition that delves into an avant garde underground that produces paintings, sculpture, photography, film, music, performance and design.

"It's the most significant movement in American art since the Pop movement," says show curator Aaron Rose, 34, whose Alleged Gallery in New York first showed this work in 1983. "Pop art became familiar to the public through products. They were artists who were shunned by the world. It's the same way with the artists in this show. They have millions of fans. But a lot of them were ignored because they didn't come out of the academic system."


What: Beautiful Losers: Contemporary Art and Street Culture (adult content)

When: Saturday-May 23

Where: Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art, 44 E. Sixth St., downtown

Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday, Tuesday-Friday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday (free admission 5-9 p.m.); noon-6 p.m. Saturday

Admission: $6.50 adult, $5.50 seniors, $4.50 students, $3.50 children 3-13


Beautiful Losers spills out of the Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art, overflowing starting tonight at Publico, 1308 Clay St., Over-the-Rhine, and Saturday at the Mockbee, 2260 Central Parkway, Brighton.

• The Publico show, Good Earth, is a group show with than 20 artists who share a "do-it-yourself" aesthetic.

"We hooked up with Christian Strike, one of the curators of Beautiful Losers, and put together a show of people we knew from around the country we wanted to have a show with," says Matt Coors. "The artists are people who couldn't fit into the Beautiful Losers show because it is full. They are a little younger and a little more do-it-yourself and the art reflects that."

Through: April 30

Opening reception: 7-11 p.m. today

Hours: noon-2 p.m. Saturdays or by appointment

Information: 784-0832;

• Beaver College and Stop Motion, exhibitions that are part of the Beautiful Losers show, will open at the Mockbee Saturday.

Beaver College, installed on the first floor, features the work of Space 1026, Royal Art Lodge and Paper Rodeo. Space 1026, an 18-member art collective from Philadelphia, shows graphics, printmaking, music recording and video editing inspired by graffiti, fantasy, cartoons, extreme sports and adolescent notebook art.

On the second floor, Stop Motion, shows local and regional skate culture artifacts; displays graphics, photography and paintings; and illustrates how the board is a makeshift canvas and mark-making tool. Don Pendleton, whose work is in the show and also appears on Alien Workshop skateboards says, "How ridiculous is art? If it's not on a skateboard, it just kind of hangs there doing nothing."

He's joined by Mike Hill, Ross Schwartzman, Fat Nick, Joe Castrucci, Dave Cook and Kevin Muente.

Through: March 29

Hours: Noon-5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, and by appointment

Information: 929-9463;

San Francisco-based Johanson, who, like most of the artists in the show, is self-taught, says it was not so long ago that he could only show his work in cafes, record stores, book shops and community spaces. His big break came when he was invited to participate in the 2002 Whitney Biennial, one of the world's most important contemporary art exhibitions. He's known for his irreverent portraits of yuppies, hippies, hipsters, losers and drunks who make the scene on the streets of San Francisco.

Johanson says Beautiful Losers is more than an exhibition, but rather a community of like-minded suburban latchkey kids who grew up under former President Ronald Reagan, fearing nuclear annihilation.

No rules, just art

"There's no model for what we are doing," says Johanson, whose wife, multi-media artist Jo Jackson, also has work in the show.

Ryan McGinley, 25, makes large-scale photographs of his friends and their lifestyle and is part of New York's Lower East Side youth culture.

"I make photographs of things that are part of my life," he says. "It's more like a fantasy life - a beautiful losers kind of lifestyle. I suppose it's the life I wish I were living, but it doesn't really exist, only in photographs."

The documentary-style photos mix skateboard, graffiti and gay culture, giving a peek into what might otherwise be a world that is inaccessible to outsiders. He breaks down the barriers between public and private life and his subjects expose themselves to the cameras with a frank self-awareness.

"I identify more with graffiti," he says. "The act of graffiti is so beautiful, using the urban landscape as your playground. Graffiti and skateboarding go hand in hand. I think graffiti writers are the craziest people out there by a long shot and I love them for it."

The coming together of street cultures is not easily defined. The show is intentionally loose, and Johanson says, vague. There's no single concept of organization unless "family reunion" works for you.

'Family reunion'

"Very early on, these artists were working in a very small area and had a very small audience," says Rose. "We organized shows ourselves, did magazines and created distribution for the work. The gallery system wasn't interested. It's a family reunion of war buddies because everyone's been through a lot and experienced it all together."

The art is as diverse as the participants and much of the technique, color, characters and attitude will be familiar to the average museum goer as it has been oozing into mainstream culture for almost a decade. The Rosenthal Center has taken a big step in giving over the museum to these representatives of youth culture.

"It's a big deal the CAC is putting this on, to inform and educate the public about this new movement in American art," says Rose's co-curator Christian Strike, founder of Strength skateboarding magazine. "And to open a dialogue with the public and critics on where this work fits in the overall history of the art field."

Fowler's contribution is performance. He was so powerful singing karaoke last week at the Comet, he set off the fire alarm.

"He was awesome," said Johanson.

Fowler says the defining moment in what he calls a "contemporary, underground, avant garde, pop youth movement" came when Rose hung the first show of this work. Rose and Strike conceived of Beautiful Losers about two years ago.

"These artists are at the point they need a show," says the 30-year-old Strike. "It was a natural fit.. The show was not hard for us to curate. The level of their influence over their fan base - late teens and early 20s - is amazing. The fine-art-world establishment, for the most part, has just recognized their work in the last couple years."

"We're all in our late 30s, skateboarders, graffiti-ers who have been influenced by punk and hip-hop music," says Fowler. "We're taste makers and trend setters. When a corporation wants to be young or hip they give out endorsements. Our economy is founded on endorsements."

They are not na´ve. Endorsements mean big money, but, according to Johanson, there's also an art boom going on. "People are investing," he says. "I was selling my drawings for $200 until three years ago. Now it's a totally different thing. People are selling drawings for $3,000 at their first show."

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