If you're perplexed by this art, it's OK


It seems by now to be an iron law of cultural transmission in America that each generation deplores the popular music of the generation that succeeds it.

The hipsters of 1900, when ragtime was all the rage, were shocked by the "indecency" of jazz in the 1920s.

Jazz begat the blues, blues begat rock 'n' roll, and rock begat rap, the latest incarnation of a cultural innovation the older generation swears will pose a mortal threat to the republic.

A similar pattern may be observed in the art world, where the social realists of the 1930s were baffled by the abstract-expressionists of the 1940s and '50s, who in turn were mystified by the Pop artists, Minimalists and Conceptualists of the '60s.

So if you are nonplussed by Beautiful Losers: Contemporary Art and Street Culture, the provocative exhibition of art by the baby boomers' successors that opens tomorrow at the Contemporary Museum, don't be alarmed. Almost by definition, this exuberant art-of-the-last-10-minutes is supposed to perplex the Me Generation.

The artists in this show take their inspiration from skateboarding, surfing, graffiti, punk and hip-hop. They share a love of popular culture, a facility with the visual vocabularies of graphic design and advertising and a do-it-yourself attitude to problems of technique. Many of their works reflect the insouciant raw primitivism of 1980s-era artists like Keith Haring or Jean-Michel Basquiat.

The exhibition will be presented in three installments over the next few months. The first installment, Painting, Sculpture and Installation Art, runs tomorrow through July 30. Part 2, Photography and Video, will be on view Aug. 5-Sept. 3, and the final installment, Design and Ephemera, runs Sept. 9-Sept. 24.

So if you're over 30, this is your chance to experience that delightful frisson of shock and outrage that has thrilled art's Philistines from the first Salon des Refuses in Paris in 1863 to the advent of Pop a century later. If you're under 30, it'll probably just seem way cool.

The museum is at 100 W. Centre St. Hours are Thursday through Saturday noon to 5 p.m. and by appointment. Call 410-783-5720.

For more art events, see Page 36.

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