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Beautiful Losers: Contemporary Art and Street Culture AND Free Basin

The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco is showing Beautiful Losers: Contemporary Art and Street Culture AND Free Basin until October 3rd, 2004. The show is an eclecticism of street culture in New York City and California. The museum describes the projects as “one of the most exciting creative areas to emerge in recent years (1). ”

Walking through the exhibit the works strike me as remnants of a subculture that created parts of New York and California, not a new wave of art. Signs warning of explicit imagery and content mark the exhibit, yet the content and imagery are mixtures of youths finding themselves through skating, accidents, sex, drugs, yet all are merely innuendos. Context is assumed by the viewer through the relationship of adjacent imagery or sculpture. This contextualizing of the work’s dialogue is not simply the photography, though. All medias of expression including graphic design, video, installations, web-based work are shown by young and established artists as evidence of the paths they have taken. It seems as though all the facets of the subculture are exposed and many of the forms of creativity are on display for scrutiny.

Yet, ironically the art forms are hardly a subculture when they are part of a huge traveling museum exhibition.

Free Basin by Simparch was shown at Deitch Projects last year as well as Documenta XI and the Wexner Center for the Arts in Ohio. This work actually allows participation by skaters, and utilizes them as sound creators for regular museum visitors who must stand beneath the basin. Unfortunately, visitors and skaters cannot stand side by side on top of the bowl. Visitors are segregated to the underside and skaters to the top. Visitors underneath watch a live-feed TV as they listen to the skater above them ride the bowl. Being spoiled by skate videos for a number of years now, watching a still cam shot of skating was painful. I wanted to see the rigid style of the skaters because of the museum confines reminded me of 1960s skateboarding rather than the contemporary Tony Hawk inspired styles.

The placement of the exhibits next to each other is perfect timing. Not because the basin is a sculpture, or because Losers reveals subculture, but because of the skateboarders wandering between the exhibits and through the museum give the entire place a lively, performative aspect. The images and sculptures are understood as slices of a true culture by museum visitors not part of the subcultures depicted. Looking at a bloody wound in a photo, seeing video of skaters or seeing images of graffiti doesn’t really register for Yerba visitors until they see the skaters. It’s true; I watched expressions change on people’s faces from blank to understanding when they saw some kids in the Beautiful Losers exhibit.

Stickers and graffiti murals and tags were on the short side. OBEY was of coarse shown, as were a few train murals, though I think there is far more depth represented at Art Crimes. There was a great selection of skateboard decks, however. In short, the subculture spontaneous edge was overshadowed by established graphic designs for the skaters. There is a nice Neckface a few blocks away, though.

The overall show is a slice of life that not everyone gets to see. It’s the slice of life to which art school kids, skaters and surfers are privy. Putting this imagery in the museum for all to see seems too public for the divertive people depicted in this show. The work is not as alive as it is in the streets, seeming stiff. The asset of the skaters wandering though from Free Basin lends for authenticity in the white wall atmosphere. It is, however, wonderful how the very different styles of expression stemming from similar influences of culture can be brought together under one roof. It is also wonderful how legends of the skate world have works that play with and show the roots of the younger artists. I’m not so sure these people are Losers, but they are definitely living a culture that is colorful, alive and emotionally charged. I think others would be envious.

{Specific artists are not mentioned beyond what is printed in the press release because I did not buy the expensive catalogue. I was not expecting to find this show, but I got as much info as I could from the museum utilizing my “press”.}

(1): Yerba Buena Center for the Arts August 16th, 2004 Press Release.

Posted by Gabe in exhibition :: installation | Permalink


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