An amiable and handsomely photographed document of a loose collective of New York City street artists in the early 1990s, Aaron Rose’s Beautiful Losers offers little more than a chance to see nice people talk about their nice-looking art. The artists — skateboarder Ed Templeton, filmmakers Mike Mills (Thumbsucker) and Harmony Korine (Gummo) among them — discuss in nearly unanimous harmony the trials of being a vaguely disillusioned outcast as a teenager and the sweet thrill of finally discovering a way to make friends and express yourself, but we never learn what it is they’re trying to work through. Throughout, we see intriguing and sometimes genuinely provocative work and learn nothing about why it exists, except that it was fun to make. Stephen Powers, a/k/a graffiti artist ESPO, for instance, is currently turning heads at Coney Island with his controversial and explicitly political “Waterboard Thrill Ride;” but in Beautiful Losers, he just talks about how cool and rad it was to paint the Cyclone rollercoaster there.
As something to look at, Beautiful Losers is similarly shallow and reverent: Rose does a disservice to the spirit of the collective by sticking to the interview-intercut-with-closeups-of-art norm. (One aches to know what Spike Jonze or Michel Gondry could have done with the material.) Two bright spots: Mills offers a succinct, erudite defense of the collective’s mainstream gallery acceptance and financial success (in the “every artist wants to sell their work” mold); and early on, Korine sits in a Midwestern park and talks about how he saw a beheading and used to hang out with rapists there. These Beautiful Losers are clearly talented and interesting people. It’s a shame Rose didn’t ask how they got that way. 90 minutes | Space Gallery | September 11, 7:30 pm | $7