Spring 2003

Y' know cool stuff (extract)

New US work featuring Alife, Dalek, Huntergatherer, Chris Johanson, Margaret Kilgallen, Geoff McFetridge, Barry McGee, Ryan McGinness, Mike Mills, Ed Templeton

What makes stuff ‘cool’? Is it some ineffable aura of elite desirability? Something that trend hoppers and of-the-moment art people want? Of course one can’t buy cool, only things made by ‘cool’ artists, yet it is a quality that our culture hungers after. And ‘cool stuff’ speaks directly to an audience that so many in the design industry seek, and it does so without any of the AIGA / AGI-like strictures of mainstream design.

For a start, the artists and designers have bypassed all the ‘uncool’ people: the clients, the commissioners. Cool stuff can be sold directly to cool customers, helped along the way by galleries (such as Alleged) hip magazines, zines (like Arkitip) and stores that traffic in cool such as Alife in downtown New York, utterly different but equally ‘cool’. For a market that hardly existed a decade ago, it looks pretty resilient. Yet ‘cool’ appeal only lasts so long. As outlets as (somewhat) diverse as MTV and Chelsea galleries pounce on the work, it will inevitably run its course. Like all ‘moments’ in culture, some artists and work will continue, and perhaps 80 per cent will not.

The artists / designers behind such work are as comfortable making t-shirts or skateboards as they are working on canvases or making installations. The work often ends up in the same places: galleries like New York’s Deitch Projects and New Image Art in LA, shoe companies such as Etnies, and magazines Anthem, Tokion, and Paper. The designers make their own content; the artists act like designers. Much of the work lies in the cracks between art, design and illustration. Some has evolved directly from pop culture: graffiti, skateboarding, hip-hop. Other work comes from a folk art tradition and is directed towards galleries.