DocuMondays – Beautiful Losers

Beautiful Losers (2008, dir. Aaron Rose, Joshua Leonard)

Starring Shepherd Fairey, Harmony Korine, Mike Mills, Jo Jackson, Chris Johansen, Geoff McFetridge, Margaret Kilgallen, Thomas Campbell, Barry McGee, Ed Templeton
Artists have always precariously walked the line between commerce and staying true their vision, and culturally we consider those who are able to commoditize their work to have succeeded. The reverse of this is that elements of strictly commercial art have been adopted by artists who have no interest in marketing iconography. My personal understanding of art is probably summed up as “I like what I like”. And the art and artists featured in this film I like.
The documentary chronicles the work of artists who came up in director Aaron Rose’s Alleged Art Gallery in Manhattan during the 1990s. The vast majority of the personalities profiled here came out of the skateboard or punk scenes and ,when you look at the methodology of their art, it makes sense. Pop art has been the strongest influence in the work of these now fortysomethings, in particular retro advertisement art. Painter Jo Jackson states that she loves old advertisements for products that are now obsolete because the seductive properties of the capitalism behind it has died.
The frustration of many artists in this documentary is with how quickly their work was gobbled up by a system that looks to make everything a commodity. There were stickers and buttons being sold at Hot Topic adorned with their work and they admit it felt like having a piece of oneself taken. On the other side, graphic artist Geoff McFetridge was responsible for a Pepsi One advertising campaign and admits he was happy to do it, but also fearful of how the artistic community around him would react. Their reaction was very positive and Geoff hinges this on the fact that he never compromised what made his work his.
The male artists featured, particularly those from the skateboarding community, are constantly wavering the line between their adolescence and adulthood. A major turning point for a lot of them came during an extended stay and series of shows in Tokyo that ended when Margaret Kilgallen, painter and wife of Barry McGee, learned she was pregnant and almost simultaneously that she had cancer. Kilgallen gave birth to her daughter and about two weeks later succumbed to the cancer. The film focuses on this as the moment where a lot of the artists’ personal visions became clear and the air of “punk” lessened a bit. This became a Do It Yourself mentality that is a hallmark of contemporary youth culture today.

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