james fuentes & alleged galleries
It was, from the outset, always something of a hypothetical. Sure, it was a gallery, but the disclaimer was inherent in the name: Alleged. With the first sandwich board signs and banners announcing its arrival, there was no mistaking the iconoclastic agenda. This was pure Carney, an exhibition space as conceived for the midway, a notion of the art world as it might exist in the less savory social margins where sleazy clip joints and vulgar entertainments proffer their goods and services to more populist sensibilities. And the proprietor, one we still only know by his dealer alias as Aaron Rose, embellished the galleristís persona of cultural huckster with a grace and occasional gravity, and a warmth befitting the proverbial whore with a heart of gold. He may have been trafficking in visually asocial taboo, dropping the capital ìAî from Art in favor of the anarchist A, and specializing in the curious contemporary alchemy of transforming the deviant detritus of our pre-programmed cultural mediocrity into the foolís gold of sub cultural spectacle. But if Rose was trying to get one and all to drink from the moonshinerís bottle of some dubious patent medicine, his elixir actually worked. The trick was in the skepticism itself. If you were driven too hard by the necessities of faith itself, you didnít get the joke- you were the joke. But if you understood the nature of what was ëallegedí, and how it rubbed against the authority of that other consensus reality, well then, it could make an old heart young again, loosen up the mental arthritis of an ossified world view... was blind and now can see.
In its germination, the good old days of, say, 1992, Alleged Gallery was all about the nabe- a very specific place and time when Ludlow Street was still just another Lower East Side gutter of low rent tenement dreams that just so happened to have a phenomenally deep demographic of artists, musicians, film-makers, designers, writers and all around hoodlums. Hell, it was a freak show, fueled by every illicit vice- from powders to pills to prostitutes- that your mommy and minister ever warned you about. As much as Alleged was a community project, it was very much a community in exile, a degenerate horde of expats who had fled the American dream machine and the glitter of Gotham for a little piece of paradise that was simply too smelly, dangerous, inaccessible, dirty and dilapidated for the world of the white and polite. Perhaps Aaron didnít know any better than to open a gallery on a street where the only other merchandise being offered in those days came in folded up little glassine bags with skulls stamped on them. My bet however, is that he knew just what he was doing. There always was a method to his madness, but more significantly, there was just as consistently a defining aesthetic criteria.
Alleged was democratic and inclusive as all venues for emerging artists should be. And, as with anything that is truly organic, it only gathered strength from its curatorial nepotism. Those first shows there, parties for the entire neighborhood to get drunk and misbehave in ways that would have sent any fine art collector who might have accidentally stumbled in there running for their lives, featured some of the best urban folk artists from the early Ludlow Street scene. That a number of them happened to be the same folk pouring the booze at the then obscure art bar next door, Max Fish, well, letís just call that a fortuitous coincidence. No doubt Mr. Rose was just the kind of down and out hipster then that he would have been able to drink for free even if he werenít exhibiting the bartenderís work. And truth be told, there was a radical symbiosis between those two idiosyncratic anti-establishments in those halcyon Ludlow daze that was nothing less than a profoundly potent stew-pot of raw creativity. What was shared in that peculiar space between the music, the art, the words and pictures, the sex, drugs and drinking, was too elusive to be a movement. It was more of a moment, an attitude that was contrary to the dominant trends of cultural consumption, a humor that defied the tyranny of political correctness, and a mode of representation that was imbued with process, casual in its stylizations, and emblematic of a gestural simplicity that all but belied the intensity of emotions and quirky conceptualisms underscoring its manifest intentionality.
From such a sensibility- at once a kind of visual sampling that was akin to the emerging strategies of DJ culture, yet somehow psychically incompatible to the discourse of post-modernism that was also borrowing the same kind of appropriations- Alleged launched Minimal Trix, an exhibition of Skateboard Art in 1993, a show that would come to define an entire generation of art-making before it made the full transition from the streets to the galleries. Subsequently exhibiting the full range of auteur expressions coming up fresh from a new breed of artist, including Mark Gonzales, Ed Templeton, Thomas Campbell, Diann Bauer, Jeremy Henderson, Glen E. Friedman, David Aron, Daniel Higgs, Phil Frost, Spike Jonze, Andy Jenkins, Sofia Coppola, Andre Razo, Chris Johanson, Tobin Yelland, Ari Marcopolis, Barry McGee, Margaret Kilgallen, Mike Mills, Shepard Fairey, Tom Sachs and many others who first showed their work at this persistently peripheral gallery, with succeeding years of shows tracing the aesthetic edges of folk, fashion, film, performance and music, Alleged Gallery was the unlikely flop-house for every manner of misfit master otherwise barred from the hallowed halls of an ever more institutionalized art market.
Over long term career-spanning collaborations with many of the aforementioned artists, and in many other sundry hit and run projects with visual provocateurs from other media who chose to run down that slippery slope of being ëartyí (with designers like Susan Cianciolo and musicians like Unsane, Surgery, Railroad Jerk, Cibo Matto, The Boredoms, Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore, and a daunting list of low brow lo-fi turntablists, as well as an assortment of film-fiends dedicated to rupturing the mundane dynamics of narrative through movies, videos and photographs- including Jim Jarmusch, Harmony Korine, Mark Borthwick, Cameron Jamie, and Terry Richardson), Aaron Rose proved much more than a stunning acumen at spotting talent early. What Alleged really accomplished was a profound understanding of the moment at hand. The ground zero of the zeitgeist where there is no substantive difference between any creative medium- and a way of translating and articulating this opaque ephemeral vernacular into a concrete visual language that even old farts like me could understand.
By Fall of 1997, Alleged moved its way too informal club-house to more posh digs on Prince Street, in the suddenly trendy zone of Nolita, and Aaron Rose finally learned how to speak for a group of artists who as a rule hated to speak about their own art. Then, a New York heartbeat later, Alleged once again pulled up its gypsy caravan and moved to Washington Street (another neighborhood that would also soon be renamed- this time as the Meat Market district- and become way too hip for its own good) in September, 1999. By then Mr. Rose had traded in his collection of rude tee shirts for a few fancy suits and found a way to juggle a community of bored kids guzzling 40 ouncers with the more professional demands of an international clientele of critics, curators and collectors of novelty. By all accounts in the old neighborhood, Aaron Rose and Alleged Gallery had finally arrived. But for those of us who knew and loved him from the start, neither dress nor manners fooled us in the least. An alley cat cannot change its dumpster diving habits any more than a leopard its proverbial spots. No one could be visionary enough to foretell what Rose would do next, because, well, he rarely knew himself. But having come to expect that disconcertingly sudden veer in the road of Allegedís constant evolution, I canít say we were all that surprised to find that once Alleged had attained what every kid with that ëheck, weíve got a barn in the back yard, letís put on a showí dream would aspire to, Aaron Rose would once again pack up his bags, leaving behind the baggage of success entirely, and re-invent his hopeless project anew.
As you look through these pictures, spontaneous unposed snaps like the pictures that cluttered their walls, enjoy them as mementos of impossible moments, artifacts of an art that always was a few steps ahead of the object itself. And know this, for every picture that was taken, there were countless others never committed to celluloid, or simply too rude and libelous to share with the public. For any of us who passed by chance, circumstance or sheer nerve through those fun house doors, we all hold our own taboo photo album in our minds. For me, my favorite picture I will never see but in own my mindís eye is the desperately after-hours vision of Courtney Love, doped to the gills, passed out with cream cheese smeared on her mouth and a half-finished bagel and cream-cheese adorned with half-smoked cigarette butts dangling from her creepy claws. But then again, it was all one great hallucination there, a dream that perhaps never happened save in the disturbed REM cycle of a madman named Aaron Rose. As for that name, Alleged, story has it that Rose took it off of one of those good luck fortune candles that were always on sale at every local bodega and Santeria shop in those days. Itís the kind of legal codicil that now accompanies those late night TV infomercials for psychic readings- a give us your money and weíll tell you the future, but itís only just for ëentertainmentí purposes, subtext. So perhaps he never did believe in the magic, but like all superstitions, it still worked.
installation views - various exhibitions - Ludlow, Prince, Washington Sts. 1992 -2001
Cibbo Matto Perform at the Opening of M.Mills "Help" Exhibition, Ludlow st (1995)
Miho Hatari, Yuka Honda, Sean Lennon play david aron's reception, Prince St. (1997)
Tommy Guerrero Plays the opening of Thomas Campbell's "Exhaust" Exhibition Washington St. (2000)
Margaret Kilgallen 1967-2001
party party party
Chris Johanson mopping up before his "s.w.p." exhibitoin, Prince st. 1998 // // // // // // // david aron in his front street studio, 1996
Aaron Rose, Brendan Fowler outside Washington St. Gallery 2000