Where do well-known gallerists with tons of street credibility and a storage unit full of a bygone decade’s cultural relics have yard sales? At art galleries of course! Such was the case for Aaron Rose, the multi-talented filmmaker/director/artist/musician/curator and writer who opened his highbrow exhibition cum garage sale, aptly titled, Aaron Rose’s Fire Sale, on July 7 at Known Gallery, an open, whitewashed space situated amidst a stretch of Fairfax Avenue in Hollywood that serves as ground zero for the well-read tattooed plaid-shirt decked intelligentsia of Los Angeles. Rose lived in NYC and ran Alleged Gallery, the crucible of the “Beautiful Losers” art movement (well documented in the 2008 eponymously titled documentary Beautiful Losers that Rose directed). In 2001, he relocated to Los Angeles with all of the personal flotsam and jetsam that a collector who engages in the arts tends to accumulate over the years. Then he did what anyone else with a bunch of stuff would do, he locked it away in a storage unit, that is, until Fire Sale when he unearthed the unit’s contents and set up shop at Known.
The event’s format was interesting in its execution, it really did feel like a yard sale, but one that catered to those with at least a passing knowledge of the artistic movement that Rose helped to ignite, to wit, what many today call “street art.” Everything at the show: prints, posters, furniture, extension cords, cassette tapes, magazines, books, skateboards, and countless other random objects Rose admits that he, “just couldn’t let go of,” bore the historical fingerprints of the Beautifully Lost. There were shoeboxes full of Polaroids and zines, larger format photos and murals, painted toy trains bombed in miniature by the likes of graff legend Power and paintings and skateboards hung on chain link fencing. Prices ranged widely, the graffiti-covered model train cars ran you $500 while you could walk away with Aaron Rose’s half-spent can of WD-40 for a buck.
There were a few items that were not for sale. One such piece that was not available to take home, but rounded out the show’s flavor, was an original print of a large photo of Harmony Korine kissing Chloe Sevigny that has become a visual synecdoche of the explosive scene that gestated, in part, at Alleged Gallery but that also found cultural tendrils in the then-new 1990s art media that was just finding its feet, à la Juxtapoz. Many of the Beautiful Losers were in attendance including Rose himself, Tommy Guerrero, who participated musically at the opening and Korine who Rose laughed, “was freaking out.”
Rose could be seen happily chatting with Fire Sale goers, giving extra information about his dusty treasure and amicably talking as his souvenirs, memorabilia and collectibles were flying out of the gallery. His enthusiasm made perfect sense given that he plans to donate the proceeds to the charity Make Something, a DIY teen art center. I asked him, considering that the piles of ephemera were collected, not as an art consumer, but in simply living a life that was enmeshed in a specific cultural movement, spawned in the mid-nineties, if there were any interesting stories behind some of the objects strewn about the gallery. He stated that everything in the room had a story to tell and randomly grabbed a dusty copy of Dirt magazine off of a card table piled high with issues of Thrasher, Fader, Index and the like. “Like this magazine here,” Rose smiled, “Spike Jones edited it,” before his more well-known pursuits. He leafed to the masthead, and sure enough, at the top of the list of credits, there were the words: Spike “The Guiding Light” Jonze.
Next to the magazine table laid a large pile of K-12 headphones (the kind of plastic jobs that many of us used to learn Spanish with in high school, but have since graduated to the status of geek-chic fashion accessory for those in the know from Williamsburg to Echo Park). I asked Rose how he had managed to accumulate such a gigantic collection of mid-century ear buds. Again there was a story to tell, this time about a performance that Rose had executed with his band The Sads, which included audience participation that utilized the headphones. “We had a performance where the audience had to wear the headphones to hear the music, if you took them off all you heard was silence.”
Everything at Fire Sale had memories attached to them, whispers from the nineties when subculture was being irrevocably transformed (some might say killed) by the internet, and the new speed at which ideas and aesthetics could be transferred from person to person. In fact, the whole room was a testament to a lost era, from when indie kids still wrote zines and ran distros out of their parents’ garages, to the culture of the cassette tape (of which there were many for sale at the opening). It seemed perfectly fitting to take the cash generated by an idiosyncratic gallery show of one culturally influential man’s cast off storage unit’s contents and use it to benefit a teen center that is helping to re-root the DIY ethic, a cultural driver that some argue has been temporarily displaced in subtle ways by new communications technology. The non-profit teaches kids art from the perspective of the street or community and from an intentionally DIY perspective whose program is spelled out in its mission statement, fitting for a man who has lived through this cultural change and whose most recent exploits have included co-curating the massive “street art” exhibition Art in the Streets at MoCA LA.
Lastly, I questioned Aaron about Alleged Press, the publishing house that was connected to the now defunct Alleged Gallery. I asked whether the press, which has published books by the likes of Ed Templeton, Mike Mills and Barry McGee (a.k.a. Twist), is still in operation. Rose stated that the idea continues to be to put out about a book a year in conjunction with European publishing house Damiani. Rose said that, “A retrospective of Harmony Korine’s work to date was tentatively forthcoming.”
The circle was complete, in the age of iPads and Kindles, Rose continues to use treeware to popularize the work of artists that came to prominence in an era that was just losing some of its traditional DIY steam. An era that included the zine and the mix-tape, the Polaroid and the hand-screened poster and the special one off artifacts of various punk kid’s musings, an era that, some argue, was more conducive to incubating subculture until it naturally “matured” into a body of work amenable to commoditization and large-scale public consumption.
My eyes circulated around Known Gallery’s walls, bouncing off of photos of Terry Richardson, hand painted skate decks, Tommy Guerrero’s musical equipment, which sat adjacent to some of The Sads, and a young skater kid, probably born well after the beginning of the “death of subculture,” leafing through a milk crate of photocopied and hand-written zines. In a room with rapidly disappearing art by everyone from Mark Gonzales to Sonic Youth, I skipped over the faces of the artists themselves and focused on the line snaking toward the cash register. While wrapped in a warm fuzzy blanket of 90s nostalgia, the room itself and the commoditization of a storage unit’s worth of cultural cargo was like a time capsule transporting the gallery attendees back to a decade when indie still stood for independence. The idea seemed so simple that it could easily get lost when one’s gaze fell upon an original Beautiful Losers silkscreen (not for sale). At one point, it was clearly used to screen shirts or posters for Rose’s travelling exhibition of the same name.
Rose has struck a delicate balance and is walking the tightrope between art and commerce, but by folding the questions circulating around this pair back on themselves and asking, in a post-internet age, “Who might be willing to come into a gallery space for a hoarder’s fire sale and pay for some of my junk?” Rose had successfully created a space that encouraged the kind of DIY art that the Beautiful Losers championed and was successfully subverting the commercial aspect by toggling the funds to go toward encouraging kids to Do It Themselves.