Spawned from Fifties hot-rod and surf-rat culture, the lowbrow movement is creeping over the art world like a mutant strain of B-movie kudzu with signs that stodgier establishment sticklers may have to resign themselves to the fact that bad taste is here to stay. Pioneered by "Kustom Kulture" czars Ed "Big Daddy" Roth and Kenneth Howard "Von Dutch," lowbrow has reared its heads like Hydra, yet its main characteristic remains poking fun at highbrow artsy-fartsy convention. "It's kind of tongue-in-cheek with a lot of pop and surrealist undertones," explains Donnamarie Baptiste, co-curator of "Monsters of Lowbrow ... A New Art Invasion" opening Saturday, May 7. "The contemporary art world is slow in catching up with what's happening in the underground," Baptiste adds. "Lowbrow has become so popular because the work is accessible and deals much more with what's happening today."
The show is a collection of nearly 30 of the genre's top dogs from across the country (plus a handful of locals) trafficking in the quirky imagery and gritty edginess that marks lowbrow's appeal. Its immediacy stems from a mishmash of pop iconography and subcultural staples of a generation weaned on television. Classic cartoons, sci-fi movies, sitcoms, soft porn, and a healthy dose of psychedelia and rock and roll pepper its visual language. Add a smattering of velvet paintings, tiki gods, tattoo art, and graffiti to the salad and one can easily grasp why it rings so clear to the masses. "The difference in people's perception of highbrow versus lowbrow is that for many this work doesn't seem as stale. Our goal is that art should not be segregated, and there are signs that the contemporary scene is starting to catch on," says Baptiste. She cites the lowbrow "Parallel Universe" show during Art Basel as a prime example. "We were wildly successful.... The scene here is starting to blow up and 'Monsters' is going to open a lot of eyes."