Beautiful Losers

Beautiful Losers

Ten years ago Aaron Rose started Alleged Galleries, and while Alleged didn’t invent this art movement, it definitely did more than most to bring people together to define this community,especially the skateboarders-Mark Gonzales, Ed Templeton, Tobin Yelland, Thomas Campbell, Chris Johanson, Dave Aron, Andre Razo, all who got in very early with Aaron Rose.

Beautiful Losers is Aaron and his partner, Christian Strike (Christian founded Strength magazine, R.I.P.) They put this whole traveling art show together in one amazingly wild yet clear package that ties together the real who’s who of “contemporary underground art.” (That’s a non-existent term to blanket “street art,” “skateboard art,” and any other “arts” you might need.) The final product is something to be enjoyed by the old scenesters and the uninitiated alike.

The energy at the initial show in Cincinnati was incredible, with almost every single person involved coming to set up their art, make their art, or just soak up the family-reunion energy. And each stop of the show’s run promises to be a little different-in San Francisco the legendary, modular Simparch “Deitch Projects” bowl is going to make an appearance! Beautiful Losers is going to keep going on for at least two years, making the rounds of major museums in San Francisco, Orange County, Philadelphia, New York, and on and on.

Absolutely keep your eyes peeled-this is the movement.-Brendan Fowler

Interview by Eric Stricker

Curator Aaron Rose was interviewed in the interim between the show’s debut and its next unveiling at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center For The Arts, which opened July 17, 2004.

What was the original concept behind Beautiful Losers? Where’d the first train of thought come from?

Well, I organized the project with Christian Strike-he used to do Strength magazine. So he sold the magazine, and right as he sold it, I was in the process of closing my gallery (Alleged) in New York. It was kind of like two dudes who had something going and then changed their lives.

Even more so than us coming together as partners, a lot of the artists I was working with at Alleged over the years started to become famous in the mainstream art world. That was what really sparked it-all of a sudden everyone was having museum shows. It wasn’t just underground anymore. There was a market. The mass culture was starting to get interested. There’re a lot of factors that play into why that happened.

So that was the general idea: “Why don’t we try to define this?” Instead of some f-king pricks coming along and trying to define it for us-people who don’t know about the culture. The idea was to do it ourselves and to work with the artists and put something together that defines the whole group or movement in a way that’s coming from the source. And we started making a list of people we thought would be good.

What was the criteria for an artist to be included in the show? Did they have to have been involved in skateboarding somehow, some way?

Skateboarding, graffiti, punk rock, hip-hop … somehow they had to have done some kind of work that was directly inside that culture-before they were known as an artist. There are a lot of artists who claim, but weren’t ever really a part of, that culture. They also needed to have a certain number of shows underneath their belt-if not museum, then major gallery shows, have a book out-something that elevated them to another level.

Besides maybe GSD inventing the boneless there, Cincinnati isn’t really known for skateboarding. Why did you decide to launch Beautiful Losers there?

Honestly, the Contemporary Arts Center was the first museum to say yes. (Laughs) And Christian’s based there. He had a lot of connections and was able to make a lot of stuff happen. But they were the first ones to accept our proposal.

Also it was a good test market. We could make mistakes in Cincinnati and it wouldn’t really harm us too much (laugh. So when it comes to San Francisco or a bigger city, we can iron out a lot of the problems.

Your general art show/exhibit usually features a handful of artists. What was the hardest part of assembling a show of this magnitude?

I guess trying to categorize and make sense of everything. There’s so much crossover, so many different people working in so many different mediums. It’s not uncommon for a lot of the artists in this show to paint, but then they also do graphics and also make movies and also make music.

The hardest thing was categorizing them because there’s a lot of educational stuff that we wanted to include in the show. Most of the people coming to see this show have never heard of any of this art. Maybe they’ve heard of Barry McGee or Ed Templeton, but there’re educational things like text on the wall and things that will allow you to walk in not knowing anything and walk out understanding it. The hardest thing was making all that make sense.

All the art fits together really well. There’s an aesthetic amongst everyone where you can put them next to each other and it looks good. There’re no two people who look wack next to each other. People use similar imagery and similar references, so the hardest thing was taking something that was free and out of control and condensing it into short sound bytes a grandma could understand. Just defining something that’s undefinable.

Are there any major people who weren’t represented that you feel should have been included in the show?

Not really. There’re a lot of people who are younger I’m a big fan of but aren’t really at the place where they could be in it yet. Os Gesmos, the graffiti writer twins from Brazil are totally amazing. And then within skateboarding itself, there’s a whole other show there-the people who have been influential within skateboarding who haven’t had say, the gallery-show pedigree. I think for San Francisco we’re going to expand on that a lot. Lance Mountain is donating a lot from his collection to bring in a different side of skating. There’re a lot of unsung heroes who unfortunately we couldn’t just throw in because of that.

Did you ever think there was too much of a good thing?

It’s a lot. I think we spaced it out pretty well so each artist had space to breathe. We had 35 artists in 10,000-square feet, and everybody went f-king buck. It’s big installations and people really showing off. It suits the work in a weird way. The show feels like a carnival.

Artists still have egos, too. Did you sense a vibe that the artists were trying to outdo one another?

Oh yeah! (Laughs) It was friendly. There were a couple incidents. I won’t mention names. People have their issues, but those are really the most immature of the group. Most of the artists realized, “Okay, I got my own shit going on.” They know they don’t have to compete with their friends. But when people started hearing what other artists were doing, they would change their thing, “Okay, well then I’m going this big.” Everybody’s always trying to go bigger.

Will that play into the San Francisco show?

Yeah, because a lot of the artists that didn’t quite get it … like Shepard Fairey and KAWS and some of the New York heads didn’t get it ’til they flew in to Cincinnati for the show. They didn’t understand what it was all about. Now for San Francisco they’re like, “F-k it. I’m flying in. I’m doing shit on the wall.”

Since the show tours, we have to keep it relatively the same because we made an offer to people, but I think just by nature it’s gonna get more and more insane as it goes on.

Being that this was a show of street artists, including graffiti artists, were the CAC and the community in fear that this would bring what they might consider to be vandalism to the surrounding areas?

Yeah, I think they anticipated it, but they weren’t really prepared. The place where I was staying was a little outside of downtown. I was there for three weeks, and every day we’d drive the same exact freeway back and forth. There was no graffiti on that freeway-it was perfectly clean. I flew out of Cincinnati the day after the opening, and that whole freeway was totally bombed. I was like, “Yes!” That was almost the best part of the whole thing. Kids went to the art show and just got amped and hit the whole freeway.

So I think the museum anticipated it, but they were a little bit shocked. But at the same time, since our show opened, attendance has gone up 33 percent, which is pretty big numbers for a museum. For whatever problems there were, I think they’re stoked in the end.

You’re outspoken about your feelings for Craig Stecyk, and he’s been a major trailblazer for this movement-a movement that started in being an outcast, a rebel, and often a vandal. Does legitimizing this take all the fun out of it?

That’s a good question. It’s inevitable-the trajectory of all these artists’ careers-with Stecyk almost being the most underdog of them all. But the trajectory was still heading that way, especially since Dogtown And Z-Boys came out. This was going to happen either way. People have to grow. We thought it most important that the people who sort of sell it out are at least from the inside. Things are going to change after this. It was very obvious to those of us making the show that this signaled an end of an era-but also the beginning of a new one. But the young guns’ part of it is over. This is kind of serious now. Some artists will survive, some won’t-I don’t know who, it’s all up to fate.

Of all the artists featured, who do you not own a piece from that you feel you probably should?

I don’t have a Stecyk. I want one. I know the piece I want, too.

I don’t have that much art. I have a little Clare Rojas, and I’d like to have more. She’s awesome. It changes all the time. I like all the stuff. I want ’em all, but then I don’t. I like the fact that it’s in a museum; it’s more for the public rather than just sitting in my house.

What was something that the average, maybe “higher-brow,” art connoisseur was caught off guard or amazed by with a show of this magnitude?

I think more than even the sophistication and beauty of the work, people were really surprised by how much influence these artists have had on pop culture as far as doing music videos, skate videos, products-’cause there’s this whole section of toys, boards, and magazine and record covers-stuff that people have seen over and over and never knew who did it. So more than anything it was that people realized that all these things they interact with in their daily lives were created by these artists-all these commercial products.

But at the same time, there’s been hella haters, too. By no means has the (entire) art world welcomed us in. There’s some serious resentment, especially from the academic establishment. Most of this work is pretty anti-school, and the academic establishment still, for the most part, runs the art world. So there’s some hate, too.

With skateboarding so mainstream now and shows and artists being accepted at places like the CAC and MOMA, are we still losers?

Probably always at heart. (Laughs) Stephen Powers (ESPO) said we should change the name of the show to “Ugly Winners.” But I’ll always be a loser at heart. I’ve been through too much. It’s the nature of being an outcast. Regardless of popularity, it’s more about an attitude.

Beautiful Losers is open through October 3, 2004 at the Yerba Buena Center For The Arts in San Francisco, California and will continue on to the Orange County Museum of Art in February 2005.

Captions

C.R. Stecyk

C.R. Stecyk was there at the beginning. He was doing graffiti, photographing and writing about skateboarding’s OG wild boys in Skateboarder twenty-plus years ago. His documentation and involvement in skateboarding’s two most legendary posses, an absolute legend. His inclusion in the show is like a crowning jewel.

Wrote ry day we’d drive the same exact freeway back and forth. There was no graffiti on that freeway-it was perfectly clean. I flew out of Cincinnati the day after the opening, and that whole freeway was totally bombed. I was like, “Yes!” That was almost the best part of the whole thing. Kids went to the art show and just got amped and hit the whole freeway.

So I think the museum anticipated it, but they were a little bit shocked. But at the same time, since our show opened, attendance has gone up 33 percent, which is pretty big numbers for a museum. For whatever problems there were, I think they’re stoked in the end.

You’re outspoken about your feelings for Craig Stecyk, and he’s been a major trailblazer for this movement-a movement that started in being an outcast, a rebel, and often a vandal. Does legitimizing this take all the fun out of it?

That’s a good question. It’s inevitable-the trajectory of all these artists’ careers-with Stecyk almost being the most underdog of them all. But the trajectory was still heading that way, especially since Dogtown And Z-Boys came out. This was going to happen either way. People have to grow. We thought it most important that the people who sort of sell it out are at least from the inside. Things are going to change after this. It was very obvious to those of us making the show that this signaled an end of an era-but also the beginning of a new one. But the young guns’ part of it is over. This is kind of serious now. Some artists will survive, some won’t-I don’t know who, it’s all up to fate.

Of all the artists featured, who do you not own a piece from that you feel you probably should?

I don’t have a Stecyk. I want one. I know the piece I want, too.

I don’t have that much art. I have a little Clare Rojas, and I’d like to have more. She’s awesome. It changes all the time. I like all the stuff. I want ’em all, but then I don’t. I like the fact that it’s in a museum; it’s more for the public rather than just sitting in my house.

What was something that the average, maybe “higher-brow,” art connoisseur was caught off guard or amazed by with a show of this magnitude?

I think more than even the sophistication and beauty of the work, people were really surprised by how much influence these artists have had on pop culture as far as doing music videos, skate videos, products-’cause there’s this whole section of toys, boards, and magazine and record covers-stuff that people have seen over and over and never knew who did it. So more than anything it was that people realized that all these things they interact with in their daily lives were created by these artists-all these commercial products.

But at the same time, there’s been hella haters, too. By no means has the (entire) art world welcomed us in. There’s some serious resentment, especially from the academic establishment. Most of this work is pretty anti-school, and the academic establishment still, for the most part, runs the art world. So there’s some hate, too.

With skateboarding so mainstream now and shows and artists being accepted at places like the CAC and MOMA, are we still losers?

Probably always at heart. (Laughs) Stephen Powers (ESPO) said we should change the name of the show to “Ugly Winners.” But I’ll always be a loser at heart. I’ve been through too much. It’s the nature of being an outcast. Regardless of popularity, it’s more about an attitude.

Beautiful Losers is open through October 3, 2004 at the Yerba Buena Center For The Arts in San Francisco, California and will continue on to the Orange County Museum of Art in February 2005.

Captions

C.R. Stecyk

C.R. Stecyk was there at the beginning. He was doing graffiti, photographing and writing about skateboarding’s OG wild boys in Skateboarder twenty-plus years ago. His documentation and involvement in skateboarding’s two most legendary posses, an absolute legend. His inclusion in the show is like a crowning jewel.

Wrote Dogtown-The Legend of the Z-Boys with Glen E. Friedman

Glen Friedman

Like Stecyk, Glen was there in the beginning, too. And he definitely isn’t afraid to tell you so himself. He took some of the first definitive skateboarding photos, as well as some of the first really definitive punk and hip-hop photos.

Skateboarding, punk and hip-hop.

Fuck You Heroes

Thomas Campbell

Thomas has done everything. He’s worked as a photo editor, art director, photographer for half the mags, done board graphics for everyone, released all the Tommy Guerrero records-often all at the same time. And I’m pretty sure he got seventh place in an am contest in the 90s riding for Foundation.

Phil Frost

Phil Frost, much to his chagrin, is still kind of the poster boy for “street art,” and he’s easily one of the most ripped-off artists there is. Phil keeps it moving, though with some signature DC shoes and crazy Italian art books coming out regularly.

Barry McGee

Barry is the only person to ever make the transition from serious graffiti kid (TWIST) to fine-art museum gallery artist gracefully. He’s the most humble person on the planet, and nobody has ever not liked his art. Barry did all the first Mad Circle graphics.

Chris Johanson

Chris grew up in San Jose, embodying the early 80s skate-punk suburban rebellion lifestyle: making ‘zines, playing in bands,

skating pools, doing art, going to shows, et cetera. All in all, Chris is still the same person today, just a few years wiser and a famous contemporary artist. Freedom.

Ed Templeton

Epic crazy art showing? Yes. A gnarly frontside ollie on the museum’s beautiful indoor cement transition? Yes. Everyone knows that Ed is a raw pro and a famous artist, but here you get to see both sidea of the man displayed with clarity.

Tobin Yelland

Tobin was there throughout the late 80s and 90s, shooting legendary black and white images of the SMA, Stereo, and Anti-Hero camps. An incredible documentarian and a photographer’s photographer in the finest sense of the word.

ote Dogtown-The Legend of the Z-Boys with Glen E. Friedman

Glen Friedman

Like Stecyk, Glen was there in the beginning, too. And he definitely isn’t afraid to tell you so himself. He took some of the first definitive skateboarding photos, as well as some of the first really definitive punk and hip-hop photos.

Skateboarding, punk and hip-hop.

Fuck You Heroes

Thomas Campbell

Thomas has done everything. He’s worked as a photo editor, art director, photographer for half the mags, done board graphics for everyone, released all the Tommy Guerrero records-often all at the same time. And I’m pretty sure he got seventh place in an am contest in the 90s riding for Foundation.

Phil Frost

Phil Frost, much to his chagrin, is still kind of the poster boy for “street art,” and he’s easily one of the most ripped-off artists there is. Phil keeps it moving, though with some signature DC shoes and crazy Italian art books coming out regularly.

Barry McGee

Barry is the only person to ever make the transition from serious graffiti kid (TWIST) to fine-art museum gallery artist gracefully. He’s the most humble person on the planet, and nobody has ever not liked his art. Barry did all the first Mad Circle graphics.

Chris Johanson

Chris grew up in San Jose, embodying the early 80s skate-punk suburban rebellion lifestyle: making ‘zines, playing in bands,

skating pools, doing art, going to shows, et cetera. All in all, Chris is still the same person today, just a few years wiser and a famous contemporary artist. Freedom.

Ed Templeton

Epic crazy art showing? Yes. A gnarly frontside ollie on the museum’s beautiful indoor cement transition? Yes. Everyone knows that Ed is a raw pro and a famous artist, but here you get to see both sidea of the man displayed with clarity.

Tobin Yelland

Tobin was there throughout the late 80s and 90s, shooting legendary bllack and white images of the SMA, Stereo, and Anti-Hero camps. An incredible documentarian and a photographer’s photographer in the finest sense of the word.