The Cool School is a 2008 documentary chronicling the rise of modern art in Los Angeles. The film details the history and events surrounding the historical Ferus Gallery, a gallery that shaped many modern artists as well as Los Angeles art in the sixties. The gallery also featured works by Warhol, Lichtenstein, and Johns, as they were rising to stardom in their own worlds.
In the documentary, we meet the main troupe of artists who really pushed the LA art movement, a troupe that features Ed Kienholz, Ed Ruscha, Craig Kauffman, Wallace Berman, Ed Moses, and Robert Irwin, among others. We hear interviews and see footage from the time period, which tells a light history of Los Angeles as well as the rise (and fall and rise) of Los Angeles’ art scene. As the trailer says, the movie chronicles “how an art scene was built from scratch.”
As someone who lives in Los Angeles, it’s one of those movies that really enlightens you because–honestly–I had no idea this history even existed in this city! It definitely made me feel smarter. It also points out the ties between the artwork that was produced and the city itself: they both have no history, they are both extremely rough around the edges, they both are completely unique, they both are very important, and they both are quite badass. We see how the city and the artwork are both constantly under scrutiny and constantly being compared to New York City. It’s a very interesting documentary and is, surprisingly, bro-ish: if there was an art collective composed of the Beach Boys and a biker gang in the sixties, it would be the Ferus Gallery troupe.
You can catch the film on PBS, Netflix, and even iTunes. But, one critique: aside from storytelling, it tries very hard to become art itself. This is not a bad thing, however there are some points and stylistic decisions that come off as a *little* cheesy–namely, when the recently shot black and white interviews are infused with “dashes of color” like faux-artsy wedding photography. Regardless, it is still a great documentary and one to watch if you want a quick art history lesson.
And, if you live in Los Angeles, DEFINITELY check it out for the archival footage.