BORIS LURIE, uneasy visions, uncomfortable truths

Published in: The Villager, New York, Vol. 74, Number 42, February 23 - March 01, 2005

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Letter to Boris Lurie

Published in: Lurie, Boris; Krim, Seymour: NO!Art, Cologne 1988

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NO is an Involvement

Michelle Stuart (1963) Published in: Lurie, Boris; Krim, Seymour: NO!Art, Cologne 1988

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Sculpture (Gallery Gertrude Stein)

by Tom Wolfe, 1964, New York Herald Tribune

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Artworkers Coalition Aims: A Proposal

Boris Lurie, January 18, 1970.

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When Artists Ran the Show: ‘Inventing Downtown,’ at N.Y.U. — Holland Cotter

By HOLLAND COTTER JAN. 12, 2017, New York Times

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Bull by the Horns

Harold Rosenberg (1974) Published in: Lurie, Boris; Krim, Seymour: NO!Art, Cologne 1988

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NO!Art in Retrospect — The Dark Ages are back!

Jean-Jacques Lebel
Published in: NO!, catalog, Berlin 1995

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Merde, Alors!

Dore Ashton (1969)
Published in: Lurie, Boris; Krim, Seymour: NO!Art, Cologne 1988

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A Monstrous Nudity: Reflections of Nazism, Concentration Camp Imagery and Obscene Figures in Contemporary Art

by Nathan Réra
Translated by Jessica Moore

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About Boris Lurie

Published in the leaflet for the Boris Lurie show at Gallery Gertrude Stein, New York, 1963

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The Artist as Provocateur

Published in: Jewish Quarterly, London, Autumn 2005, Number 199
DAVID H. KATZ confronts the challenging work of Boris Lurie

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Jews, Nazis, Women: Trauma And Suffering In Boris Lurie’s Art"

by Donald Kuspit

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Spasm

Stanley Fisher (1959)
Published in: Lurie, Boris; Krim, Seymour: NO!Art, Cologne 1988

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Vulgar Show Statement

Stanley Fisher (1960)
Published in: Lurie, Boris; Krim, Seymour: NO!Art, Cologne 1988

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Doom Show Statement

Stanley Fisher (1961)
Published in: Lurie, Boris; Krim, Seymour: NO!Art, Cologne 1988

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Introduction: Italian Shows

Thomas B. Hess (1962)
Published in: Lurie, Boris; Krim, Seymour: NO!Art, Cologne 1988

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YES & NO: thoughts to the issues of the past

Lil Picard (1970)
Published in: Lurie, Boris; Krim, Seymour: NO!Art, Cologne 1988

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Introduction to the NO-sculptures show

Thomas B. Hess
Exhibition presented by Boris Lurie at Gallery Gertrude Stein, New York, May 12—30, 1964

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Involvement Show Statement

Stanley Fisher (1961)
Published in: Lurie, Boris; Krim, Seymour: NO!Art, Cologne 1988

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Introduction to SAM GOODMAN 'NO-sculptures'

Boris Lurie (1964)
Exhibition presented by Boris Lurie at Gallery Gertrude Stein, 24 East 81 Street, New York. May 12—May 30, 1964

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Die Welt: Go to the Jewish Museum, dammit!

By Hans-Joachim Müller
Die Welt, 05.22.16

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Boris Lurie: In the Footsteps of an Outsider

by Rudij Bergmann

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NO!show at Gertrude Stein Gallery

Seymour Krim (1963)

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BEST ART EXHIBIT/2014 by CHARLES KRAUSE REPORTING

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Pin-up-Girls im Lager – English translation

(Pin-up-Girls in the camp)
For the first time since his death in 2008 works of Boris Lurie are shown in Europe

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La primera muestra española de Boris Lurie llega al Vostell – English translation

(The first show in Spain of Boris Lurie comes to the Vostel)

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El arte después de la barbarie de Boris Lurie – English translation

(Boris Lurie’s Art After Barbarism)
by Fernando Castro Flórez

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Lurie bei Vostell – Ein faszinierende Neu-Entdeckung aus den 1960er Jahren – English translation

(Lurie at Vostell – A fascinating rediscovery of the 1960s)
Wulf Herzogenrath / KUNSTZEITUNG 2014

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El arte después de la barbarie de Boris Lurie

por Fernando Castro Flórez

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ALDO TAMBELLINI, artist, primitive and innovator

Beatrice Bondi

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BORIS LURIE, uneasy visions, uncomfortable truths

by David H. Katz
Published in: The Villager, New York, Vol. 74, Number 42, February 23 – March 01, 2005
Boris Lurie is an East Village artist, writer, poet and Holocaust survivor who, for more than 60 years, has expressed uncomfortable truths about the nature of art, history and society through his painting, collage and sculpture, truths that often placed him in opposition to the critics and curators of his day, but, in retrospect, now make for a powerful body of aesthetic work, rich in content, contradiction and controversy, and well ahead of its time. His recent inclusion in an ongoing group show at the Clayton Gallery & Outlaw Art Museum, at 161 Essex St., The ’80s, 326 Years Of Hip, along with three other octogenarian artists, Taylor Mead, Mary Beach and the late Herbert Huncke, has served to refocus attention on the raw, uncompromising nature of his art, and his courageous, at times obstinate, refusal to cater to the tastes and trends of the art market and the gallery system.

Born in Leningrad in 1924 into an educated, highly cultured Jewish family, Lurie grew up in Riga, Latvia, and was recognized as having artistic talent at an early age. After the Nazi invasion of Russia in 1941, his family was swept up in the maelstrom of the Second World War. At 16 he and his father were captured by the Germans and began a hellish journey through the ghettos and concentration camps of Riga, Salapils, Stutthof and finally Buchenwald-Magdeburg in Germany. His mother, sister and grandmother were murdered, painful losses that immensely affected Lurie and were later to prove central to many of the themes and motifs of his work.

Liberated in 1945, Lurie remained in Germany for a year and worked for the U.S. Army Counter-Intelligence. He moved to New York City in 1946 and began his art career there, with figurative paintings in which he refused to flinch from dealing with his experiences in the camps, despite a postwar reluctance among survivors to dwell on, or even mention publicly, their wartime ordeal. Paintings like Back From Work (1946), and Roll Call in Concentration Camp (1946), with their ghostly, skeletal figures, fluid lines and pearl and sepia tones recall El Greco and Goya; Entrance (1946), his portrait of two sonderkommandos, the doomed gangs of inmates forced to remove the victims from the gas chambers, flanking the walkway to a crematorium, is as bleak as it is poignant in its depiction of shards of dignity amid hopelessness.

Under the influence of Picasso, De Kooning and later Pollock and other Abstract Expressionists, Lurie abandoned strictly figurative painting, and through the late ’40s and ’50s worked in a number of disparate styles and modes. A sequence of paintings called the Feel Paintings speak to his fascination with American symbols of libertine femininity like burlesque dancers, dancehall girls and pinup girls, to Lurie, a highly charged symbol of American big city life that he returned to in the early ’70s.

Lurie’s role during the ’60s, and ’70s, as a founding member and prima mobila of the NO!Art movement elicited some of his most striking, exciting and contentious works. Founded in 1959 by Lurie, Stanley Fisher and Sam Goodman, in cooperation with the March gallery in the Tenth Street in New York, (later known as the March Group), NO!Art was a visceral reaction to the dominant movements of the era: Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art. NO!Art’s self-proclaimed principle was to bring back into art “the subjects of real life,” which for Lurie, Fisher, Goodman and the others were issues of repression, destruction, depravity, sex, occupation, colonialism, imperialism, racism and sexism; the deep stuff, the psychological, edgy, discomforting material that makes people squirm; the kind of paintings you won’t find hanging, color-coordinated, over the wine-colored leather couch in a living room out in the Hamptons.

Lurie freely admits that, like many artistic rebellions, NO!Art started “out of desperation; I mean it wasn’t an intellectual program, philosophic program worked out by some philosophers or in some university,” he said recently, while uncharacteristically decamped above 14th St., at a friend’s Park Ave. apartment, recovering from a quadruple bypass surgery, while his chaotic and art-crammed East Village apartment is being renovated. “It started out of desperation because we were already some time in the art world, and finally we saw what was going on and we said: To hell with you, we want to be artists but we’ll do it for ourselves, we won’t be involved with them. And if they want to they can try to get us.” The basic ideological and aesthetic thrust, was “total self-expression, and inclusion of any kind of social or political activity that was in the world, that took place in the world,” Lurie explained. “Total freedom of expression, and also what was favored was like a protest, an outcry, anything that might be considered a radical expression, that doesn’t necessarily coincide with the expression that was permitted under the then current aesthetics.” Or to put it another way: “The aesthetics was to strongly react against anything that’s bugging you.”

For Lurie that reaction was deeply and understandably connected with his experiences in the Holocaust, and he created different series of works that commented, directly and indirectly, upon those experiences. Most notorious, and to some, offensive, was his 1959 Railroad Collage, an elaboration of his Flatcar Assemblage by Adolf Hitler (1945), an appropriated photograph of a stack of corpses on a flatcar at Buchenwald.

His sarcastic renaming of that horrific image wasn’t enough for Lurie; he took it one step further in “Railroad Collage” by superimposing a cutout shot from a girlie magazine showing the backside of an attractive woman lowering her panties and exposing her ass. Were these works a comment on pornography and the Holocaust, or the Holocaust as the ultimate pornography? Was it a callous denigration of the victims, or a celebration of eroticism, the life force, Eros, in the midst of an unsentimental and unsparing depiction of death; or was it simply an unvarnished expression of contempt for the diminished humanity of their depraved killers? Whatever it was, the results, in 1959, were shock and outrage: people leaving the gallery in a rage, letters to editors, condemnation, controversy, uproar — everything a serious artist dreams of provoking. “I would say they were shocked,” Lurie, said. “When you combine extremes like death, or injury, and all that with sexual aspects, it shocks even today. Because we tend to think different in this way, despite the fact there’s an involvement between sex and death also and so forth. In other words, if you use pinup girls in order to comment on serious things, it’s confusing because the closed-minded person would react to this semi-pornography in a very hostile way. The person whose mind is more open, would laugh it off. But they wouldn’t take it seriously.”

This was especially true at the end of the ’50s, when, before the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the Holocaust was still a taboo subject, the word itself barely established as the universal term for the Nazi program for the extermination of the Jews. “Nobody spoke about it,” said Lurie. “Most of the people that I knew in the art world, and my friends, never knew that I was in a concentration camp. It was never talked about. So in that time that everything was opened up, there was also a general historical background to this that happened during this time when Castro won the civil war in Cuba; and it happened at the time when Khrushchev became the head of the Soviet Union and loosened everything up. All over the world there was an atmosphere of loosening up.”

Lurie continued to explore the implications of the Holocaust, both directly and indirectly, in the years to come, with etchings like Stars of David on Swastika (1962), a series of “NO-Sculptures” (1964-’66), some made of excrement; various assemblages incorporating the infamous iconography of the Jewish Yellow Star; an entire series of “Chain Works” in 1973, including Chained Female Shoes, Chained Roses and Chained Toilet Paper. His 1964 Death Sculpture, chicken heads entrapped in a block of synthetic resin, anticipates Damien Hirst’s modern sculptures of sharks and sheep suspended in formaldehyde.

For the most part, critics and curators of the day rejected Lurie and NO!Art, a circumstance perhaps responsible for Lurie’s at-times caustic — “The art market is nothing but a racket” — yet brutally honest views of the business of art, views he has made clear in a number of writings and letters, including notably his great critique, MOMA as Manipulator (1970), and the Statement for the Exhibition ‘Art And Politics” at Karlsruhe Kunstverein, Germany” (1970), which constitutes a sort of NO!Art manifesto: NO!Art is anti worldmarket – investment art: (artworldmarket-investment art equals cultural manipulation).

NO!Art is against “clinical,” “scientific” estheticism’s: (such estheticism’s are not art). NO!Art is against the pyramiding of artworldmarket-investment-fashion-decorations (“minimal,” “color field,” “conceptual”): such games-decorations are the sleeping pills of culture. It is against “phantasy” in the service of the artmarket. NO!Art is against all artworldmarket “salon” art. NO!Art is anti Pop-art: (Pop-art is reactionary — it celebrates the glories of consumer society, and it mocks only at what the lower classes consume — the can of soup, the cheap shirt. Pop-art is chauvinistic. It sabotages and detracts from a social art for all.)

At 80, Lurie is as sharp, opinionated and insightful as artists a third of his age, and is still realistic and truthful, perhaps too truthful, about the relationship between aesthetics and commerce in a capitalist society: “Well, an art dealer is a businessman like any other businessman, and his job in this economic society is to furnish goods and to try to make a profit at it,” Lurie noted. “And it doesn’t work any different than selling shoes or anything else. It might be decorated with a lot of big talk and philosophical talk and what not, but it doesn’t make any difference. Because he has to support a gallery, he has to pay a secretary, so a certain reality comes in. So somebody who doesn’t like the artist X, may still deal in him because he can make some money on him. And he may really believe in artist XYZ, and not touch him at all because he can’t make any money, and he can’t waste any time on him. “Say he likes two artists,” Lurie continued, “they’re working in the same area, more or less, their work is very similar, they’re both very good according to him. One of them is a terrific salesman, and the other one is a completely, he sits at home, and doesn’t know anybody and just keeps on working and so forth. He’s incapable of promoting himself. So as an art dealer, the one who is a terrific salesman, is a much better deal for you because he takes some of the burden off your shoulders.”

Ironically, Lurie has found a great deal of success in the country to which he owes much of his angst-ridden subject matter: Germany, where NO!Art is celebrated as a major movement in the history of 20th-century and — with Lurie’s 2004 exhibition, OPTIMISTIC – DISEASE – FACILITY, at Haus am Kleistpark, Berlin-Schöneberg — 21st-century art.

David H. Katz is an artist, photographer and writer working in New York City. His artwork has been published in Zeek Web magazine, and exhibited at Makor Gallery, and Diamonds and Oranges Gallery in New York. His work also appears on his website ZtakArchives.com, as well as a number of other on-line galleries. – He has also written for a wide variety of publications, including The New Statesman, High Times, TANK, The Villager, The Portable Lower East Side, Leg World, Rap Express and Jewish Quarterly. His Infoir, The Father Fades, appeared in Transformation, A Journal of Literature, Ideas and the Arts, Spring, 2005.

Letter to Boris Lurie

by Iris Clert (1970)

Published in: Lurie, Boris; Krim, Seymour: NO!Art, Cologne 1988

Dear Boris: What can I say, you know perfectly well what I love in Art. Art for me is an escape from reality and not an awful realism which shows the horrors of our mad civilisation. We are surrounded with ugliness, dirt, pollution, horrid posters, vulgarity: why take all these horrors put them together and make a protest? The real protest is to show beauty and purity! In the early ’60s, in fact it started in 1957, I have shown Yves Klein, that was a protest against the Art that was fashionable in those times, lyric and abstract expressionism. Dada has always been a protest with humour. NOIart seems to be a protest with hate. I am for love and humour. Non Art is a deep protest against all the established values, in fact it shows the end of our civilisation. But as soon as Non Art is sold, it becomes a commercial value, and therefore I don’t agree with it. I would really be convinced, if the Non-Artists would go as far as burning themselves with their work in the face of the public. Galerie fondée par Iris Clert en 1956, située 3 rue des Beaux-Arts puis, ,jusqu’en 1971, date où elle ferme, 28 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré à Paris. Iris Clert en nouant des relations privilégiées avec quelques critiques comme Claude Rivière, Julien Alvard, Pierre Restany, Michel Tapié, Charles Estienne ou Michel Ragon défend les différentes formes de l’abstraction. Elle expose Takis, Yves Klein, Brô, Jean Tinguely, Gaston Chaissac… Dès le milieu des années 60, la galerie décline et malgré son emménagement sur la rive droite de Paris, elle est obligée de fermer en 1971.

NO is an Involvement

Michelle Stuart (1963)
Published in: Lurie, Boris; Krim, Seymour: NO!Art, Cologne 1988

The subject is only a means of fixing our attention of appearances and inducing us to penetrate these appearances to reach the spirit of the work. Man matters before everything. The whole work refers first of all to him and to the quality of emotion the artist has been able to transmit to his work. The subject is never actually an event, but rather the order (or deliberate disorder) which the mind is able to establish between events. Mingled with the subject are our moral or religious feelings, the instincts that determine our acts, and the passions that at once make us cruel and compassionate.

Pure substruction can contain emotions by the rectitude of a line or edge, the drama in a stroke, the silence itself, but too often it is pretentiously esoteric. The artists at the March did not suppress the recognisable images which were provided by inner currents of sexual exaltation and sentiments which concerned the development and fate of the whole human species.

Art is stronger than morality and also more innocent. These men are first of all artists, protesting artists, but no social realists. One finds no rigid message or standard discipline here. They are suggesting, rebelling, in an essentially romantic manner. The romantic’s job is not to purify but to intensify, not to resolve but to stimulate. The assemblages, paintings, collages, and sculptures that have been created (and sometimes destroyed) in the March Gallery have answered nothing. But they have asked, many times in anguish, questions that should concern us all. The area of values is described by the titles given each exhibition: The Vulgar Show, The Doom Show, The Involvement Show.

In their impatience with an art separated from life, these artists have employed objects scavenged from life itself. They give form and importance to the refuse of our popular culture.

Sam Goodman has salvaged from the abundant trash barrels, garbage heaps, and overflowing gutters of New York carcasses of TV sets, play guns, mangled dolls, crutches, airplaines, bombs, bibles, toy cash registers, crucifixes, even a globe of the world. As he assembles these objects the toy guns turn into threatening weapons, the dolls into frightening reminiscences of the charred bodies of Hiroshima or Auschwitz, the Bible a purity degraded, and the cash register a demoralising symbol of power.

We can act only in the terms of our time, which in a space of fifty years has uprooted, enslaved, or killed seventy million human beings. We must question our innocence. Mr. Goodman is asking us to do just that.

Stanley Fisher’s maniacs and monsters in their kaleidoscopic confusion we might possibly see walking the streets, if we ever managed to transcend our conditioned reality. The irrationality and barbarism of the crowd, the tension, the toothpaste-cigarette ad landscape actually does exist. In dismembered assemblages and collages he explores with hot colors and aggression the prism of sin with puritanical delight.

Boris Lurie’s large collage-transfer-paintings swirl in a frenzy of flesh. They are filled with the lace-painted, balloon-breasted nudes, Venuses and Harpies at once, which signal the distortion of values within our society. Real fulfilment for the man who allows absolutely free reign to his desires and who must dominate everything, lies in hatred. Lurie says: “Liberty or Death”, but not libertinism at any level. His recent NOlpaintings recall Camus: “What is a rebel?” A man who says “NO” but whose refusal does not imply a renunciation. He is also a man who says yes, from the moment he makes his first gesture of “rebellion” . The disorder in these searing collages express aspiration to order. Lurie’s rebellion is a wish for clarity and unity. This is our reality and unless we choose to ignore it, we must find our values in it.

Since 1948 Lurie has incorporated unaltered pin-ups of our wench world from the lowdowns to cinema aristocracy, as well as total ad objects such as Heinz Bean Cans, prophecying later cans and later queens. Signs and photos of violence and injustice pattern these pinup echoes of Eve which at once become obessional private phantasies and symbols of the wholesale bacchanals of death with which we are familiar.

The March Gallery group is one more example of the continuing need of the artist to re-evaluate and re-define his world, using all conceivable means to remain vital. Since the rapture we get through art out of life is conditioned by everything including its horror, the aim of art is, in the final analysis, to the wring from us our consent of life.

Sculpture (Gallery Gertrude Stein)

by Tom Wolfe, 1964, New York Herald Tribune

Photo: Sam Goodman in the NO (Shit) Sculpture Show at Gallery Gertrude Stein, 1964

Sam Goodman, the artist, is short, plump, shaggy, rumpled up, 45 and never too old for the life of Artist in Protest. He and his friend Boris Lurie have been working for the last seven years down on the Lower East Side in the general field of shocking the bourgeoisie and revolting against the establishment. And that is exactly the trouble in their lives. Shocking the bourgeoisie is getting tougher and tougher. They have gotten so they will take anything you throw at them in the name of Art, bent automobile fenders, old shower nozzles sticking out of canvas, anything, and just love it to death!

For example Boris and Sam put on something like their Vulgar Show a few years back, featuring mango-haunched babes with shanks akimbo ripped out of the flesh magazines, just to mention one of the mentionable things, and what happens? All the modern-day Babbitts who come around, mainly the art critics and other aesthete-intellectuals, as Boris calls them, just keep saying things like that’s fine, Sam, that’s fine Boris, keep it up, we are with you in the heroic struggle.

So all right, said Sam, let them try this one on for size. This one, their newest exhibition, which opened the other night at the Gertrude Stein Gallery in a very elegant townhouse at 24 E. 81st St. And so it came to pass that 75 years of Modern Art led at last with invincible logic to Goodman-Lurie seated on the floor of a gallery just off Madison Avenue amid 21 piles of sculpted mammal dung. Not designed to look vaguely like mammal dung, or more or less like mammal dung, or abstractly like mammal dung. They did not put it up on a pedestal. It lies flat on the floor, including one pile that weighs 500 pounds. They made it all look as exactly like mammal dung as 25 years spent in art in the tradition of Cezanne, Picasso and Matisse would enable them to. So Boris began sculpting dung—let them try that on for size.

“I extrude it,” Sam was saying. “I use, like, this cast stone. You know? I extrude it through like a pipe or something. Cast stone is like, I don’t know, plaster of Paris. I extrude it through a pipe or something, I can’t tell you exactly how because then they’ll be all doing it.” Mr. Goodman’s friends testify that he is a germinal thinker, and indeed has to worry about other artists stealing his ideas.

He has a lot of important ideas. A couple of years ago after the Vulgar Show, he and Boris put on a Doom Show, one of Sam’s contributions being decapitated baby dolls burned up and embedded in burned-up bed springs. A couple of months later, did one of the leading Pop-artists turn up with incinerated doll babies in her show? Exactly.

For godsake, half the artists in town are likely to be after the secret of sculpting dung if the critics embrace dung the way Boris says the people who come by the Gertrude Stein Gallery do. These people are frustrating. They still won’t come right out and be shocked. They, the culturati of the New York art world, look right at the mounds lying there on the floor and talk about them in terms of the usual, their mass, their tension, their thrust, their plastic ambience and so forth.

Boris was outraged. “These people are so intimidated by the aesthetics of modern art and all this aesthetic double-talk,” he said, “they are afraid to look at it as what it is, which is dung. They just want to look at it as sculpture. They come in here and touch it and talk about ‘form.’ I think they’re too intimidated to express what they feel about a so-called work of art.”

According to Boris’ reasoning, their sculpted dung now has the critics backed into a corner. They have been embracing junk sculpture, “found” objects, old vulcanized tires on a pedestal, paintings of Campbell’s soup cans and love comics. So if they are so all-embracing, let them embrace dung.

Miss Stein, who is not a third cousin of the Gertrude Stein the grand guru of America’s expatriate writers in Paris in the 1920’s such as Hemingway, was saying how the critics, if they have an eye for history, should not find it hard to embrace the show at all. “Cast the NO! Sculptures in bronze” she was saying, “and you have the entire history of modern art summed up right there.”

All this talk about acceptance and critical acclaim was beginning to worry Sam Goodman, however. He began looking around at the 21 mounds lying flat on the floor, and he was saying: “Yeah, but I don’t know what I’m going to do for an encore. I figure I can either take a return trip and head back towards the womb or, I don’t know, like forge ahead and put on a happening in which I commit suicide.”


In Memory of Tom Wolfe 1931-2018

Tom Wolfe; Photo by Jill Krementz, 1964

Photo by Jill Krementz, 1964, when both were on the staff of the New York Herald Tribune

Artworkers Coalition Aims: A Proposal

Boris Lurie, January 18, 1970. 

  1. AWC CONSTITUTES THE VANGUARD OF CONSCIOUSNESS OF ARTWORKERS AND IT IS THEREFORE THE STANDARD BEARER AND SPOKESMAN FOR ALL ARTWORKERS.
  2. GROW !
    INCREASE SPHERE OF INFLUENCE AMONGST ARTWORKERS!
    ( Documenta 3 hearings; Artstudents participation; More committees) 
  3. EXPOSE !
    EXPOSE ROTTENNESS OF ARTWORLDMART ! STUDY DETAILS OF THE MESS !
    Artworkers want a non-stop campaign of pure exposure in all media:
    Artworkers demand legal investigations of artworldmart institutions and practices.
  4. SMASH !
    SMASH ART WORLDMART !
    Learn techniques of attack in the culture revolution. Conduct a non-stop campaign of attack on artworldmart.
    Disrupt and sabotage artworldmart. 
  5. DON’T COLLABORATE !
    ARTWORKERS DO NOT PARTICIPATE IN ROTTEN ARTWORLDMART.
    Artworkers want no ‘posts’ in museums, artinstitutions, etc. Artworkers will not be coopted into the artestablishment. No aid from artworldmart institutions. No trade-union type of thing.
    Artworkers don’t participate in museum-gallery-city sponsored exhibitions/manifestations.
    Artworkers must get ready to totally withdraw from commercial galleries and artworldmart publications-sales catalogues. Artworkers must commit themselves in writing to such withdrawal.
    Artworkers are set against divisive tactics – separating artists on the basis of race. Artworkers are against Black and Puerto Rican wings or special privilege in artworldmart institutions.
  6. ARTWORKERS RELATIONS TO MARKET.  
    ARTWORKERS COMMIT THEMSELVES TO STAY OUT OF THE ARTWORLDMART.
    Artworkers may sell to dealers, collectors, galleries, museums, but they must not loan works or enter into contractual agreements. 
    Artworkors do not become subservient to artworldmart individuals or organizations.
    Artworkers work towards the eventual disapearance of commercial galleries dealing in and manipulating contemporary art. 
  7. ALTERNATE INSTITUTIONS.  
    Artworkers are committed to live outside the artestablishment. Encourage institutions such as coop galleries, artists’ shows in their studios, shows in public places.
  8. MUSEUMS.  
    Museums are to revert to their original role of guardians of past art and deceased artists. Museums must have no hand in art manipulation, establishing commercial values, trends, ‘stars’.
  9. AWC SECRETARIAT.  
    Full time paid staff should be employed for office, communications work. 

Postscript: 

AWC will become more radical—right now, or else it will disappear—right now. 

It is last call to take sides: to either join the artworldestablishment fully, or to oppose and confront and attack it fully. Anything in between is a waste of time. 

Original document PDF

When Artists Ran the Show: ‘Inventing Downtown,’ at N.Y.U. — Holland Cotter

By HOLLAND COTTER
JAN. 12, 2017, New York Times

When a call went out online recently for an art world protest strike — “no work, no school, no business” — on Inauguration Day, more than 200 artists, most based in New York, many well known, quickly signed on. In numbers, they represent a mere fraction of the present art world, and there was reason to expect the list would grow. By contrast, in New York in the 1950s, 200 artists pretty much were that world, and one divided into several barely tangent circles.

That era’s cultural geometry has been badly in need of study, and now it’s getting some in a labor-of-love exhibition called “Inventing Downtown: Artist-Run Galleries in New York City, 1952-1965,” at the Grey Art Gallery at New York University. With nearly 230 objects, it’s big and has its share of stars. But it’s not a masterpiece display. It’s something almost better: a view of typical — rather than outstanding — art, of familiar artists looking unfamiliar, and of strangers you’re glad to meet. It looks the way history looks before the various MoMAs get their sanitizing hands on it: funky, diverse, down to earth, with things to teach us now.

By 1952, Abstract Expressionism was the big American deal, the art that won the culture war with Europe. Americans like muscle, ego and size, all of which Ab Ex had. The market likes brands, and will create them where it can, and did so in the case of Ab Ex, which made many people, including the uptown Manhattan dealers who sold it, quite happy.

Not everyone was thrilled. Not all artists were. Some itched to have success as part of the trend but couldn’t quite figure out how. Others were tired of abstraction; they wanted to paint people and nature, tell stories, or try out crazy new forms that merged art and theater. For still others, politics, and art’s expression of it, was of primary concern. The only guaranteed way these artists could achieve their goals was by opening galleries of their own, and they did.

The earliest of these 1950s artist-run galleries were downtown, on or around 10th Street, east of Fourth Avenue, where rents were cheap. The Grey show, organized by Melissa Rachleff, a clinical associate professor at the New York University Steinhardt School of Art, features 14 such spaces, a few of which lasted for years, others for just a few months.

The most stable were the so-called cooperative galleries, or co-ops, established by groups of artists who paid monthly dues to cover rent, pitched in on running the place, and made joint decisions about membership: whom to bring in, and whom to kick out. In return for their commitments, they could, on a rotating schedule, show their art.

The earliest of the three co-ops covered by the show, Tanager Gallery, was also the longest-lived, surviving from 1952 to 1962. And it was the one with the most market-friendly aesthetic, a little something for all tastes. Samples of work by members range from realism (a 1959 double portrait by Alex Katz of his wife, Ada), to semi-abstraction (Lois Dodd’s wonderful 1958 picture of three caramel-colored cows), to the full-on gestural painting of Charles Cajori, Fred Mitchell and Perle Fine.

As is true throughout the show, there are memorable discoveries here. One is a sculpture: a splendid wood figure carving by Mary Frank, suggesting the form of a dancer, which Ms. Frank was. The other find is Jean Follett, whose ghostly assemblage painting, “3 Black Bottles,” is in a world of its own. Tanager’s gestural painters would have fit right in at uptown galleries, and aspired to. But in the 1950s, Ms. Follett, who after early success left New York, was still looking for a receptive place to land.

She found one in 1952 at Hansa Gallery. It was named for Hans Hofmann, a revered teacher who, although himself an abstract painter, encouraged his students to experiment in other styles and media. So did the gallery’s young director, Richard Bellamy, who would later champion Pop and Minimalism. Their venturesome tastes may account for the variety of work in this section of the show, from Jane Wilson’s vivid portrait painting of a fellow artist, Jane Freilicher, to a photograph of an early environment by Allan Kaprow, who paved the way for Conceptualism.

The third co-op, the Brata Gallery, brought some racial and ethnic diversity into the 10th Street picture. Ed Clark, fresh from Paris, was one of the very few African-American artists exhibiting in New York. And he holds the banner of abstraction high here with a picture that’s basically a giant swoosh of pink. (He has a solo show at Tilton Gallery on the Upper East Side through Feb. 18.) Brata also exhibited the Japanese-born Nanae Momiyama — two of her tiny ink paintings are here — and mounted one of the most successful downtown shows of the day in the American solo debut of Yayoi Kusama, whose hypnotic and enveloping paintings caused a sensation.

That was in 1960, by which point other kinds of galleries, alternatives to the alternatives, finding 10th Street too conservative and rejecting the co-op model, had sprouted up downtown. And these spaces, scrappy and scrappily documented, are the most interesting of all.

Reuben Gallery acted a bit like a co-op — it had a steady schedule of shows — but its thinking was loose enough to accommodate Mr. Kaprow’s audience-participation happenings, and the street-junk pageants of Red Grooms. In 1958 Mr. Grooms opened a space of his own, called City Gallery, in his West 24th Street studio. It lasted barely six months but presented a much-talked-about group drawing show. Ms. Rachleff has tracked down more than 20 of the original 45 works, among them a luminous Emily Mason pastel and two fantastical street scenes by Mimi Gross (who would later marry Mr. Grooms). The gifted painter Bob Thompson, dead from drugs at 29, showed here. So did the undersung Robert Beauchamp, and the poet and scholar of African art George Nelson Preston, who has a retrospective at Kenkeleba House in the East Village through Monday.

That project ended when Mr. Grooms had to move, and he started another, the Delancey Street Museum, in a deserted boxing gym on the Lower East Side. There he realized some of his own most ambitious theater pieces, and also presented a solo by the painter Marcia Marcus, now obscure, who has a way-ahead-of-its-time self-portrait at the Grey. Similarly, Judson Gallery, in a basement near Washington Square, is remembered chiefly for Claes Oldenburg’s early, hair-raising performances, but was just as important for introducing painters like Marcus Ratliff and the outstandingly interesting — where can we see more of her? — Martha Edelheit.

And, fleetingly, artist-run galleries popped up way downtown, near the financial district. In the winter of 1960, Yoko Ono opened her studio-loft at 112 Chambers Street to experimental composers like La Monte Young and choreographers like Simone Forti. In 1963 a bunch of Bay Area artists settled, commune-style, in a tenement at 79 Park Place, near City Hall. They lived rough, but the hard-edged paintings produced by Tamara Melcher and Leo Valledor are as neat and clean as can be.

But long before then, downtown had moved uptown. Hansa had done a five-year stint on Central Park South, hoping to attract collectors from the commercial art district nearby. In 1960 a start-up space, Green Gallery, set up shop on 57th Street and projected a downtown ambience, thanks to its quixotic director, Mr. Bellamy. He was a downtown type if ever there was one, as is made clear in Judith E. Stein’s engrossing 2016 biography, but Green Gallery was firmly in the business of doing business. In positioning Pop and Minimalism as the next art success stories, it worked with priorities that the more radical downtown spaces had resisted.

It was those spaces, where downtown existed as a state of mind as much as a place, that held my attention longest. This was partly because some were new to me, but also because their thinking seemed vital in a way that Green Gallery’s did not. March Gallery, on 10th Street, was an example. Run by Boris Lurie, a Holocaust survivor, with his fellow artist Sam Goodman and a poet, Stanley Fisher, it approached art not as an ornament but as an ethical argument, a response to racism and greed. Wordy and space-hogging, their paintings seemed pitched to outshout and outbully consumer culture.

Their populist approach inspired the artist Aldo Tambellini to locate his alternative space, the Center, in the East Village streets, where people would participate in, and contribute to, his art, whether they meant to or not. The same crowdsourced ideal led the artist Phyllis Yampolsky, in 1961, to establish the Hall of Issues, a space at Judson Church where anyone, from community activists to neighborhood kids, could post bulletin-board style comments on matters that concerned them. The space, in place for two years, was a prototype for the “subway therapy” installation of thousands of handwritten sticky notes that covered a wall of the Union Square Station after the 2016 presidential election.

And there’s the Spiral Group, which originated just before the 1963 March on Washington, when several African-American artists — among them Emma Amos, Romare Bearden and Norman Lewis, as well as Hale Woodruff, who taught at New York University — gathered in Greenwich Village to debate the question of whether and how to insert the politics of race into their work. Did doing so misuse art? Did it diminish politics? Was it self-aggrandizing? Self-isolating? Did it do any good?

These questions are all pertinent to artists now, including those who may be considering adding their names to next week’s art strike. The Spiral Group concluded that there was too much at stake for them not to take a stand as artists: Do it, and see what unfolds. So they changed their art and put together a political show. Their example still holds.

Inventing Downtown: Artist-Run Galleries in New York City, 1952-1965
Through April 1 at Grey Art Gallery, New York University; 212-998-6780, greyartgallery.nyu.edu.

Bull by the Horns

Harold Rosenberg (1974)
Published in: Lurie, Boris; Krim, Seymour: NO!Art, Cologne 1988

One gets sick of “radical” artists who produce innocuous collages of silk—screened newspaper clippings-scare headlines, electric chairs, corpses—and imagine they are striking a blow at society. All that they are saying is that they read the papers, tabloids by preference, and have found ways of making use of them for art. It’s not really very radical to be aware that two Kennedys were assassinated and that Marilyn Monroe had an appealing mouth. Perhaps this art feels heroic because it has subjected itself to such low-grade information instead of meditating on the continuity of the picture plane and the plangent discovery that paint comes in colours.

Genuine perception of social reality and accompanying grim feelings don’t go down well with critics, curators and collectors, who seek, above all, peaceful enjoyment of art treasures—and thus the “unbroken continuity” not only of the picture plane but of the art market and of works of today with the masterpieces of the past. What is the contemporary art world but the collusion among its parts to turn art into a Sunday Section of life untroubled by the news of the week?

The measure of vanguard art is

1. the degree of heat it registers in its criticism of society and culture;
2. the centrality of the target to which this criticism is applied.

I think NO!Art does well with 1, less well with 2. (Incidentally, I think NO!Art is a bad title, because it gives the impression of meaning “without art”, whereas its better meaning is nay-saying or negative art.) In the temperature of their reaction against contemporary America, the NO! Artists were the legitimate heirs of Dada, though without the old boys’ slapstick ferocity. At any rate, they showed a natural enmity to cool, slick Pop and post-Dada Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein and other housetrained kittens.

It is not easy for an artist to be constantly negative. After all, one becomes an artist through a burst of admiration for a work of art. To say No to art through art requires, first of all, that one say No to that transforming experience. I am talking about slaying a god-or an angel, god’s messenger. If anything less is involved in NO!Art, it is simply non-art, and modern society is full of that.

On the other hand, unless the NOI is absolute—principled and non-compromising as a religious or political oath—it becomes automatically a device for smuggling in a style of painting through propaganda about social attitudes.

Lurie, Goodman, Fisher et al smothered their aesthetic angel under a garbage heap of media images belonging to the categories of violence and sex fantasy. They anticipated Documenta V by ten years—it is no wonder NO!Art is doing well in the land of an international exhibition conducted under the slogan art is superfluous and of Joseph Beuys. Lurie said in one of his statements that he couldn’t get mass-distributed pictures of big tits and behinds of bent-over girls out of his head until he emptied them into his collages. The organic goodies that happen to be packaged in the human female kept at fever heat his hostility to society that has learned to satisfy mass market demands for anything but genuine ass—it can, on a national basis, supply only ersatz (the Pin-ups), leaving actual toplessness and price-fixed fondling to be controlled by local ordinances. You don’t have to be tit-hungry to like Levy’s, and to appreciate why Goodman and Lurie were sore.

The NO!Artists had the advantage of a self-fueled loathing. The next question is, how good was their choice of targets? Primarily, I think, their target turns out to be not society but the art world. And the art world can only go down the drain when society does. NOI Art features pinups, a kind of art, according to Lurie’s testimony, capable of becoming an obsession. From pinups NO!Art advances to excrement, exhibited in anticipation of anti-form sculpture.

Where’s the radical criticism? In the exhibits themselves, I mean, not in the accompanying manifestos? Naked girls are at home on the walls of art galleries, and to exhibit them as scandalous, with or without garter belts, in cut-outs from porno magazines is to imply that they ought to be denied to the poor and uneducated.

Shit is not a radical phenomenon either—Rabelais wrote a poem in praise of it as a factor in the humanist revolution. So the NO! message boils down to the assertion that while pornography and shit are facts of life they have not hitherto been found in art galleries. But a lot worse things are prevalent in galleries and are considered highly respectable. To deal in masterpieces as if they were diamond-studded shit is more culturally destructive than to exhibit shit as If it were a diamond-studded masterpiece.

NO!Art reflects the mixture of crap and crime with which the mass media floods the mind of our time. It attacks this mixture through reproducing it in concentrated images. It is Pop with venom added. I think its greatest value is to remind the art world that there are things to be uncomfortable about, whereas Pop glad-handed Madison Avenue as if it were looking for campaign funds. Granted that people flee unpleasant reminders, especially when there’s nothing they can do to change the situation, art can only answer, let them. It’s not the business of art to get things done but to keep reality on the agenda. Art has been apoliticized since the war not because artists chose to shun politics but because they found a genuine artist can only do what he can do, not what he thinks ought to be done.

Besides, politics itself has abandoned all hope for a better world. Individuals can shriek, but no one knows what to do. Art by itself can do nothing to change the general conditions of life. And if art merely shrieks it is accused of abandoning art for bad politics. Did NO!Art do that? Did it ask what is good art for in the world today? A “Swiss Investment Group?” A “Japanese-American Group—highest prices paid?”

NO!Art fixed itself in the reality defined by the self-destructive New Left of the early sixties. It accepted the letter’s package of things to attack: tyranny, filth and aesthetic hypocrisy, but it could not offer any contributions toward a new political consciousness or a rebellious sensibility. All the March Gallery could do was to make noise to drive away evil spirits. And to take the bull by the horns, at the risk of getting dragged in the dirt.

Some Questions as Appendix:

1. Will NO!Art be co-opted by art history?

2. Does it seek co-option?

3. Will shit multiples be produced by Marlboro, Pace and Castelli to comInforate this episode of art history?

4. Will a retrospective shit show be sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council for the Arts?

5. If not, is the omission a falsification of art history?

6. What about other artists who have existed but have been omitted from art history?

About Harold Rosenberg

NO!Art in Retrospect — The Dark Ages are back!

Jean-Jacques Lebel
Published in: NO!, catalog, Berlin 1995

In Bosnia, in Chechnya, in Chiapas civilians are gunned down like rabbits, in Rwanda they are butchered with machetes, in China, in Tibet, in Algeria whoever speaks up is shot dead. This is an age of racism and nationalism for T.V. junkies, in which social and cultural lobotomy, via the media-crazy, passes for “consensus.” The word “ALIENATION” has fallen out of fashion (to the extent where the average European, American or Asian citizen probably wouldn’t even understand its meaning), but never has the actual reality of alienation been so overpowering, so effectively in control of all our lives: The Cultural Industry is, of course, part of the dominant power machinery. Whoever denies that is a hypocrite or a cretin. Nevertheless, as artists, poets, performers, activists or, simply, as thinking and autonomous citizens, if we refuse to work with, or through, cultural institutions (museums, galleries, universities, publishers, theaters, concert halls, film producers, etc.) we get pushed aside and forced into silence. Today’s world wide social and economic crisis brings back to the fore the fundamental questions formulated by Gauguin which the bullshit art-boom of the eighties, had tried to erase:

» D’OU VENONS NOUS? OU SOMMES NOUS? OU ALLONS NOUS? «

Those artists and/or art-gangsters, operators and speculators who had “forgotten” that art was about THAT (and not about commercial success, cultural politics and Hollywoodian glitz) are now suffering the results of their own poison. In substance, nothing much has changed since Gauguin: are we objects or subjects of our own history?

Some of us who, back in the fifties and sixties, were fortunate enough to befriend the surviving dadaists or ex-dadaists—Duchamp, Breton, Péret, Man Ray, Tzara, Ernst, Huelsenbeck, Haussmann—never stopped believing that artistic activity, if motivated by dissent (and not consent) and expressed with humor (and not arrogance), could somehow, even indirectly, exert some kind of positive effect in the social field. We felt, and we still feel, totally estranged from the dominant culture, we pledge no allegiance to a country, a church nor a party, yet we feel part of a nomadic international underground whose “raison d’être” was and is to re-invent the World thru art. Not academic art—sound poetry and Happenings were obviously needed after Artaud and Cage—but, still, art, as a behavioral statement of existential sovereignty. A tiny but active minority of neither commercial slaves nor drop-outs, experimenting other ways of life, other means of expression, other cultural networks, in the libertarian mode.

Looking back, some—not all—of the most intense moments of my life have been collective experiences: hallucinogenic adventures in Paris with Ginsberg, Corso, Burroughs at the Gît-le Coeur Hotel, in the late fifties; the Living Theatre trip (after meeting the Becks in Milan, at the 1960 Anti-Procès show) in New York, Italy and Paris; the brief but strong events lived with Sam Goodman, Stanley Fisher, Ted Joans, Michèle Stuart, Boris Lurie at the Hall of Issues and March Gallery in New York and my meeting, there, with Allan Kaprow (great friend and collaborator, to this day), the Antl-Procès shows, in Paris, Venice, Milan, to protest the Algerian War (bombs were exploding in the streets, torture was being practised by the Army and Fascist groups, Algerian corpses were thrown to the Seine, their arms tied behind their backs with barbed wire. THAT was Paris in the early sixties!); the large (4 x 5 meters) Collective Anti-Fascist Painting—the co-authors of which were Enrico Baj, Erro, Antonio Recalcati, Roberto Crippa, Gianni Dova and I—shown in 1960 at the Milan Anti-Procès show (I got arrested, the painting was confiscated and kept by the Italian police for 25 years); the Festivals de la Libre Expression (Happenings, exhibitions, music, movies) in Paris, the political and cultural work with the Noir et Rouge anarchist movement before, during and after ’68; the Woodstock experience with the Yippies and Abbie Hoffman; Actions of Art/life, with Felix Guattari in Berlin (Tunix), in Bologna (Indiani Metropolitani), in Watts (Los Angeles); the many POLYPHONIX Festivals roving around the world today; all this in counterpoint with very private and silent laboratory work in my studio.

I remember the New York NO!Art bunch as being immediately friendly and in total despair (as I was, also, upon arriving from the Algerian War zone which Paris was part of). Sam, Stanley, Boris, Michele, Ted were already disgusted—as I was—with what they perceived as another massive Hollywoodian hype operation catering to the Park Avenue and Golf Course crowd of “art collectors”: Pop Art. They, like the early beatniks, were deserters and “nihilists”—in the Dostoievskian sense—wiping their asses with Art News and Art in America and refusing to set foot at the MOMA or the Whitney which, of course, was childish. I interpreted the title of their show as: “Our art says NO! to yours which is not art but prostitution. Our art is opposed to ‘Yes Men’ and ‘Yes Art’!”

After the boring Hell of Europe in the fifties, New York smelled like Paradise, One could spend nights sitting to Thelonius Monk playing his Nietzschian piano at the Village Gate; one could walk down Canal Street (Shangri La!) with Ted Joans, buy a real metal bomb (which I used in my BOMB! Mr. America sculpture) and carry it back on the subway; one could share a small studio on 10th Street with (now dead) Haitian artist Jacques Gabriel; one could dine with Duchamp and Huelsenbeck, Tinguely and Johanna; one could meet Ginsberg, Corso, Leroy Jones (now Amiri Baraka), Franz Kline or Bob Rauschenberg at the Cedar Tavern; one could do readings at the Living Theatre or participate in Oldenburg’s Happenings; one could spend days with Sam Goodman sifting thru the 42nd Street Girlie Magazine stores to find the right ones to use as collage material for our American-reality sandwiches (such as I did for my “New York School” and “Bomb and Shelter” series); one could make movies with Jonas Mekas and walk from one end of the city to another as Rousseau walked across the Alps to Venice.

The Judson Church was where the anti-war and anti-racist activists met. It’s basement was the perfect location for the Hall of Issues and the March Gallery, which were run mostly by Sam Goodman. They were completely different from the “normal” art world in that they were open to all that which the up-town dealers and museum directors were afraid of; screams of suffering, despair, insurrection.

Isn’t that what every generation is obliged to do in order to survive: construct its own counter-institutions, its own instruments, its own space, its own language? It’s not for me to say if NO!Art is better—or worse—than that which it was reacting against. Is it strong stuff or weak stuff? Is it relevant or irrelevant today? Whatever the answers are we cannot be naive enough to hope that this art—or anti-art or NO!Art—can be “understood” or accepted. It still isn’t (and, probably, never will be) the kind of chic and neutral merchandise affluent collectors hang on their dining room walls. That’s O.K. with me! Think about Pueblo Indian (New Mexico) sand-painting. Medicine men (i.e. “those who see”) draw intricate sand compositions In color, creating, on the ground, sacred places for healing rituals. The magic works or it doesn’t work, depending on the mental state of the individuals involved in the ritual. Anyway, sooner or later, a great wind win blow it all away.

So, take a look, a good look, while you still can.

About Jean-Jacques Lebel

Merde, Alors!

Dore Ashton
Published in: Lurie, Boris; Krim, Seymour: NO!Art, Cologne 1988

It seems to me that it was not by accident that the post-war years were hung over with the sulphureous title of Sartre’s fiction: Nausea. Creeping into the fifties were the demons of doubt and disgust that fostered such phenomena that occurred at the March Gallery.

Even now, with ten years’ perspective on the grotesqueries presented (ironically I hope) in the name of art. it seems to me worthy of serious discussion. The nausea has not subsided. It appears in many guises, not the least of which is the determined route of challenge to art itself. Such slogans as “art is the artist,” and such recent vogues as “anti-form” arts have their sources in the kind of feelings generated in the 1950s.

I think of the environment of Tenth Street in those days; the attraction the March Gallery had for social dissidents of varying stripes; the obvious political pressures. Betrayals everywhere. What could the lessons of a concentration camp have meant, really, when atrocities in the Korean War went on and on. And on and on to Vietnam. And haven’t stopped yet. And become more common and more easily accepted every day. And Algerie Francaise was present.

Many of the artists alerted to the political negativism of the March people were well aware of events elsewhere. The postwar period was adding up quickly in the 1950s to a perpetual war period, not even the optimistic perpetual revolution that peered through in some of Sartre’s articles then. Just perpetual carnage.

Artists who could no longer tolerate inertia, or individuals who saw in the umbrella-shade of “art” a living space no other activity in this society could provide, converged in mutual disgust.

Significantly perhaps, the March Gallery was not at street level, but four steps down into a kind of cellar. As I recall, it began as just another cooperative, with a heterogeneous shifting population of participants. Little by little, it became the focal point for all manner of social dissidents, many of whom had watched the political events of the 1950s with increasing discouragement. One betrayal had followed another, and what had once been zestfully suggested—that art was a perpetual revolution—seemed to them a paltry idea in the face of Korea, Algeria, McCarthy and the struggle in the South. Out of this ever more penetrating nausea grew the March group which was associated, in those days, with the idea of social protest and political indignation. Its target was not only art itself, but the society which could calmly contemplate it while crimes of unspeakable dimensions were being executed every day. This was a time when to joke about Park Avenue really meant something. It was a time when many “collectors” had installed real museum lighting in their Park Avenue apartments (which to this day look exactly alike) and had proceeded to acquire artists. It was a time when even Alien Ginsberg could be found swilling fine Scotch in those uptown havens. It was a time when the artist had uncomfortable charisma which drew the rich to his lair, and placed his convictions into jeopardy.

By 1960, when Boris Lurie had his one-man show, “Adieu Amerique” and when some friends and I were sufficiently alarmed to form the “Night Letter Committee,” the great excitements about the new American painting was just over. Also, just about over was the perennial American habit of optimism. We were all in trouble, and by that time most of us had understood that the poisonous legacy had permanently contaminated our territory.

In 1960, then, I saw Boris Lurie’s collages, with their frequent allusions to the concentration camp he had once inhabited, and their open indictment of popular American culture. I also saw other members of the March group in the “Vulgar Show” and recognized the themes (atom bombs, concentration camps, contaminated milk, lynchings in the South, commercial sex, professional mass-killers). I wasn’t much worried about whether they were art or not. At that time, and since, I had recognized that a sub-culture of dissent was emerging in which every mode available would be used to formulate the new, politicized values. Lurie’s and Goodman’s messages found their marks in the disaffected youth that flocked to see them, and eventually those messages, even though scorned, even appeared in the uptown press. Art had nothing to do with it.

Meanwhile, at the March Gallery, Boris Lurie was welcoming people to the Involvement Show by telling that “in times of war and extermination, aesthetic exercise and decorative patterns are not enough.” And ominously: “Remember, Eichmann is you, too!” The next year he was back with the “Doom Show,” together with Sam Goodman and Stanley Fisher and others, reminding us again that all was not well with the art establishment. It was a mess, that show. I remember it well. But I must reiterate that while the terms in which these makers of collages and things dictated their messages were not witty, brilliant, or even scathing in the great tradition of political art, they were the only terms in which an increasing number of dissidents could see their predicament! Nauseating to the seat of the soul.

I couldn’t help but be attracted by the 1963 NO!show. By that time, what with Vietnam and the coming-of-age of what Eisenhower immortally called the military-industrial complex, I was all for “NO!,” no matter what it meant. It was certainly not a show as art shows go, but it did broadcast the marvelous possibility of saying NO!

The final statement of the March group, it seems to me, was Sam Goodman’s collaboration with Boris Lurie shown at the Gertrude Stein Gallery, in which excrement was the sole agent, modeled to look like sculpture. This was a statement of the nihilistic, anarchic values that the subculture had long been generating. As is always the case with the morally indignant, the potential for pathos is strong, and so is the potential for annulment. Many converged in a pact of mutual disgust in the mid-1960s, and it was this mutuality that exhausted itself, as once dada had exhausted itself, making way for revised values. Merde alors! A final, incontrovertible statement which cuts off any further discourse.

For all that, the nausea and restlessness that motivated March Gallery events is already a tradition which the sub-culture can build upon. A diffuse but voluble clamor amongst urban artists points to the abiding value of “NO!” as a creative force. Whatever might be said about the quality of thought that brought about the foundation of the Art Workers’ Coalition not long ago, the fact remains that a genuine crise de conscience has assailed larger segments in the art world. Important questions such as the role of the “pure” artist in social revolution have not been raised so fervently since the mid 1930s when the Popular Front posed the great challenge to the modern artist. The nihilism which underlay NO!Art is altered here. The depression that assailed the young in the late 1950s and early 1960s, is modified by the bracing action which suggests the possibility of vital change. The political crisis in the United States altered not only the attitudes of younger artists, but also the way in which they approached in the works which justified their calling themselves artists, and it is in this alteration that the first note of optimism in many years is made possible (at least in the view of those artists who renounced easel painting and sculpture in favor of actions, events and ephemera).

The proto-theories of the March group have been refined, made viable, but the original sources remain: frantic disaffection, dismay and the paucity of spiritual lebensraum. Under the shelter of “art,” many Americans can pursue certain activities and find a living space that no other category of American life can provide. The value forging activities of the anti-form artists finally have little to do with art which remains impervious to mere mortals, but are—ever since those early 10th Street days—increasingly important to a society which knows no ethic any more and which is perpetually hungry.

About Dore Ashton(link is external)

 

A Monstrous Nudity: Reflections of Nazism, Concentration Camp Imagery and Obscene Figures in Contemporary Art

by Nathan Réra

translated by Jessica Moore

Originally published in French in HISTOIRE DE L’ART N°76 2015/1 as “Une monstrueuse nudité: Reflets du nazisme, imagerie des « camps » et figures de l’obscène dans l’art contemporain.”

“Humanity lifted its dress and showed itself to me in all its monstrous nudity as if I were a skillful pupil worthy of her.”
Alfred de Musset, Lorenzaccio, Act III, scene 3 (1834), translated by Eric Bentley.

Art after 1945 became the mirror of extremes: it reflected the world’s upheavals and the emergence of new forms of violence, while simultaneously celebrating the breakdown of taboos related to sex and death. The link between art and transgression is not a modern phenomenon, far from it; and yet, as Gil Bartholeyns, Pierre-Olivier Dittmar and Vincent Jolivet state in the conclusion of their essential analysis of medieval images, “the field of transgression in art seems to have only grown larger over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries.” During the pivotal period of the 1960s and 1970s, transgressive forms of a new genre appeared: in part, in the obscene figures that began to be represented, moving towards an “extreme of contemporary art”; but also in the figuration of pure evil – Nazism and its corollaries – which artists attempted to respond to formally, replaying contemporary disasters on paper, on film or even on their own bodies.

Sometimes it happens that these two types of antagonistic images appear together, to the point of subjecting the viewer to a veritable ordeal of looking – a trial comparable to that which Alex undergoes in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971). In the film, Alex’s eyelids are held open by a device worthy of the Inquisition and he is forced to watch a succession of pornographic images, images of Nazi propaganda and probably, as Michel Chion suggests, “images from the death camps.” Beneath the double effect of a serum injected into his veins and eye drops that dilate his pupils, the erotic pleasure that Alex feels is progressively replaced by an unshakeable nausea. This analogy between the genitals and the eyeball, presented in a negative sense, recalls Georges Bataille’s Story of the Eye, or Susan Sontag’s later theories on the photographic image: “All images that display the violation of an attractive body are, to a certain degree, pornographic. But images of the repulsive can also allure.”

The simultaneous invocation of Nazism, mass death and pornographic imagery multiplies this malaise tenfold. In the era of porn studies, we are less interested in the question of genre than in the process of superposition, which some artists use – placing an “erotico-pornographic” fantasy over images of Nazism. What is the intended effect of the combined display of images of death and sex, in the context of genocide? Is the “transgression” or “subversion” argument, often put forward by critics or by the artists themselves to legitimize such work, simply a pretext? What discourse about history and memory shapes these representations? And, since not everything is equal, how do we distinguish between an image that is inappropriate or ethically questionable and one that causes us to reflect? These “new images” have also appeared in a context where the use of the term “pornography” has largely exceeded its original definition. From an ethical perspective, pornography today is “associated with obscenity […] and belongs to a certain category: the unrepresentable. […] Pornography becomes the synonym for that which is morally forbidden and its representation – a transgression.” Examining this shift in meaning requires us to take a detour through cinema, where a new ethic of images was shaped, before taking an interdisciplinary look at contemporary creation in its most varied and litigious forms.

History Stripped Down

We had barely emerged from the “negative epiphany” of the concentration camps and the nuclear carnage of Hiroshima and Nagasaki when artists began creating radical forms upon the ruins of chaos. In “Ordre sauvage” [Savage Order], Laurence Bertrand Dorléac shows us how the consciousness of pure evil brings about a new, staggering, self-destructive relationship to the body. Gutai, Fluxus and Viennese Actionism: all the leading figures of these avant-garde movements incarnate disaster in their very flesh, as though chemical and technological horror “had to be replayed, in as raw a manner as possible, in order to finally be thinkable.” Bodily excretions – blood, feces, saliva, sweat, sperm – shatter and replace traditional mediums. With each happening, the leaders of Viennese Actionism (Günther Brus, Hermann Nitsch, Rudolf Schwartzkogler and Otto Muehl) push the threshold of the tolerable further back. Muehl in particular seems to attempt to exorcise his own past as a soldier in the Wehrmacht, on the pretext of defending against amnesia in his Austrian compatriots. The artist evokes his memories of the front – a pile of soldiers’ bodies covered in snow; bodies buried in mud, crushed by the caterpillar tracks of tanks – and says that these moments constituted his “first real material actions.” His cathartic performances, intimately anchored in the experience of destruction, are also a defiance of morals: animal blood mixes with the urine and excrement of the participants, who read pornographic texts or act out sadomasochistic practices when they are not engaging in non-simulated sexual acts. A denunciation of Nazism? For Jean Clair, transgression is not what Viennese Actionism – and Muehl in particular – is preoccupied with, but rather “the pleasure of evil, this perpetual remembering of a primitive scene in the light of a capital sin […] This is beyond values of good and evil. Or rather, everything happens as though evil didn’t exist.”

The clash between the different forms of violence in the Actionists’ rituals reaches another sort of climax in Salòor the 120 Days of Sodom ((Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma, 1975) by Pier Paolo Pasolini. The Sadean world is transposed to Northern Italy – under German occupation and governed by the Republic of Salò (1943-1945). The film shows the abuse endured by young men and women, imprisoned in a castle near Lake Garda by four notable fascists. The huis-clos is perfect for the expression of totalitarian ideology, illustrated by the pleasure the torturers take from these bodies that are penetrated, violently sodomized and animalized – to the point of being forced, in a sequence at the borderline of the “unrepresentable,” to ingest their own excrement. With this, Salò – which Hervé Joubert-Laurencin sees as, more than being simply a film, “an object of contemporary art, exceeding the limits of cinema” – joins a long history of scatology in art, which Jean Clair traces back at least as far as Dada and the surrealists. In the art of today, excremental is often synonymous with profane: we might think of Chris Ofili’s The Holy Virgin Mary (1996), painted in elephant dung; of the real pigs which Wim Delvoye – who became widely known for his turd machine, Cloaca (2000) – tattooed with pious images over and over again; or of Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ (1987) – a photograph of a crucifix immersed in the urine and blood of the artist. In Salò, in contrast, the allusion to defecation is not (only) aimed at religious transgression: the repulsive taste of shit mixes with the rank stench of fascism, a combination that the Viennese Actionists were exploring in the same period. Salò depicts a cesspool in which all orifices, under to the reign of the anal, give off the stink of an unnatural society and its monstrous eroticism. In this world that is not so distant from the one painted by Jérôme Bosch, the torturers treat their victims like little piles of shit – “Dreck” – as the Nazis said, to describe the bodies of Jewish people pulled from the gas chambers.

The Other “Pornography”: The Invention of an Ethics of the Image

Although Salò did unleash the censor’s wrath, the film scene at the time was being shaken by other polemics. In addition to the debates caused by the emergence of the porn industry, there was a comeback of erotic Nazi imagery in the cinéma d’auteur [Auteur Theory in film]. In a landmark essay, Saul Friedländer showed how a “fascination with Nazism” calcified in the early 1970s, which he identifies as: “an aesthetic tremor, conjured by the opposition between the harmony of kitsch and the constant evocation of themes of death and destruction; a desire, stemming from both the eroticization of power and domination and from the simultaneous representation of Nazism as the site of all release (of evil thoughts), the site of all transgressions.” The historian presents a panorama, which has also been called “a vast pornographic output centered on Nazism,” stretching from Luchino Visconti’s Damnés (La Caduta degli dei, 1969) to Rainer W. Fassbinder’s Lili Marleen (1981), by way of Louis Malle’s Lacombe Lucien (1974) or Liliana Cavani’s The Night Porter (Il Portiere di notte, 1974). This last film, which tells the story of an impossible attraction tinged with sadomasochism between a Nazi torturer (Dirk Bogarde) and his former Jewish victim (Charlotte Rampling), was labeled “artistic pornography” by critic Serge Daney.

While Daney sees pornographic intentions in The Night Porter, this is less because of the film’s sexual aspects – which are consensual enough, light years from the extremism of Salò (which he defended, in fact) – and more for its questionable aesthetic – or “kitsch,” as Friedländer would likely write. Here, the critic follows in the footsteps of Jacques Rivette who spoke out thirty years earlier in the Cahiers du cinéma against Gillo Pontecorvo’s film Kapo (1960), which he accused of having tried to recreate the experience of the concentration camps: “for so many reasons, all quite easy to understand, total realism — or what serves as realism in cinema — is impossible here; every effort in this direction is necessarily unachieved (“that is, immoral”), every attempt at reenactment or pathetic and grotesque make-up, every traditional approach to “spectacle” partakes in voyeurism and pornography.” Although Kapo didn’t have anything erotic about it, properly speaking, it was the aesthetic that, in the critic’s opinion, flirted with “obscenity”: in choosing to use a tracking shot to film Terese’s (Emmanuelle Riva) suicide, electrocuted after throwing herself against the camp’s barbed wire fence, the director was stepping over into “abjection” and, in fact, the tracking shot would be considered “a question of morality” from then on.

During the same period, Jean-Luc Godard, to whom we owe this compelling phrase, had expressed his own unease about Alain Resnais’ use of images of extreme horror in Night and Fog (1956) and Hiroshima mon amour (1959): “The trouble […] with showing horror scenes is that they automatically go beyond what you mean to say – the audience is shocked by the images, somewhat in the same way as by pornographic images.” Although he was fundamentally quite close to a Claude Lanzmannian ethical position, Godard ended up taking the opposite side: rather than doing without archival images – which Lanzmann does in Shoah (1985) – he would employ them continuously within a centrifugal montage. In his Histoire(s) du cinéma [Hi/stories of Film] (1988-1998), Godard returned several times to a collision between images from Nazi camps and pornographic images. For example, a cross-fade links a photograph of deportees taken in May 1945 at Ebensee, a subcamp of Mauthausen, to a close-up from an early twentieth century porn film. Elsewhere, the director shows an image of the terrifyingly emaciated body of a dead concentration camp prisoner, likely being dragged towards a mass grave, immediately after an excerpt from a porn film featuring partners engaged in a threesome.

It might be tempting to see this heterodox montage as simply provocative and tasteless, and it wouldn’t be the first time Godard did something controversial. But this troubling juxtaposition of images of the camps and pornographic images is not aimed at assimilation, as Georges Didi-Huberman asserts: “If death is placed in a montage with sex, it is not to debase death, quite the contrary; nor is it to necrotize sex. It so happens that in the camps the same German word sonder (special) designated both death (as in Sonderbehandlung, which referred to the “special treatment” of gassing) and sex (as in Sonderbau, which referred to the brothel). A montage can attempt to take this into account.” But beyond this lexical subtlety, it’s important to examine the context in which these images were first received. Ophir Levy revealed that the bodies filmed by the Allies during the opening of the western camps, shown in cinema newsreels in the spring of 1945, were “the very first images of bodies that were entirely naked,” shown publicly and on a large scale on movie screens. If, as Levy points out, “the cinematographic epiphany of nudity happens as the polar opposite of eroticism,” it’s clearly in a Bataillean optic that Godard links the specter of the camps to pornographic imagery, bringing together his definition of obscenity and the horror of the rotting corpse.

Fascination or Transgression?

Godard’s “transgressive montage” was foreshadowed, forty years earlier, by Boris Lurie’s (equally transgressive) collages. Born in Leningrad (Saint Petersburg) in 1924 to an upper class Jewish family, Lurie, who showed a precocious artistic talent, was captured by the Nazis during the 1941 invasion of Russia and deported to the Buchenwald concentration camp. He survived four years there, along with his father, but his sister, mother and grandmother were all killed by the Nazis. At the end of the war, the young man immigrated to the United States. After producing nearly a hundred drawings and a few paintings inspired by his memories of the Riga ghetto (which he calls “private paintings”), he founded the No!Art movement in 1960, along with Sam Goodman and Stanley Fisher. This avant-garde group appeared in reaction to abstract expressionism, neo-Dada and Pop Art. Its precepts were summed up by Lurie during the “Involvement Show” at the March Gallery (New York) in 1961: “In a time of wars and extermination, aesthetic exercises and decorative patterns are not enough.” Faced with the political disengagement of some popular artists of the time, Lurie underlined the necessity of resituating the creative act in the heart of the real – independent of consumer logic, art became a powerful protest tool. Brian O’Doherty reminds us how Lurie, Fisher and Goodman’s position foretold the radicalism of the avant-garde movements to come, even so far as the actions that would flaunt the rules of good taste – such as the exhibition “No Sculptures/Shit Show” (1964), including sculptures that resembled piles of excrement.

In America, Lurie’s work remained mostly little known, despite the support of certain key figures – such as Gertrude Stein (same name as the famous American author, who was also an art collector), who showed his pieces in a New York gallery. In the late 1950s and the early 1960s, Lurie echoed and radicalized the politico-aesthetic approach of the German Dadaists (Grosz, Hausmann and Heartfield) who used collage and photomontage for their resolutely caustic aims: he began to incorporate images of Nazi atrocities into his works. The choice is deliberately transgressive: the artist creates tension by combining this searing imagery with pictures from popular culture, which are often erotic or pornographic. In a collage entitled Saturation Painting (Buchenwald) (1959-1964), a newspaper cutting with a photograph by Margaret Bourke-White is surrounded by little vignettes showing a half-naked playmate in raunchy poses. Another piece from the same period, Railroad Collage (Railroad to America) (1959-1963), links the “memory of the camps” with erotic imagery (fig. 3). A shot of a pin-up girl from behind, suggestively lowering her panties, partially covers a larger image of dozens of bodies from the concentration camps piled on the back of a truck.

Lurie’s works are mentioned in the exhibition catalogue for Mirroring Evil – Nazi Imagery, Recent Art, shown at the Jewish Museum in New York in 2002. This exhibition gathered together controversial artists who were known for their ambiguous relationship to the “memory of the camps.” Mirroring Evil included the inevitable series LEGO Concentration Camp Set (1996) by Polish artist Zbigniew Libera; Alan Schechner’s photographic manipulations – including a snapshot by Margaret Bourke-White into which the artist has inserted himself, among a group of concentration camp prisoners, wearing striped pyjamas and brandishing a can of Coca-Cola (It’s the Real Thing. Self-Portrait at Buchenwald, 1993); the Zyklon B. boxes stamped with the Tiffany & Co., Hermès and Chanel logos by Tom Sachs (Giftgas Giftset, 1998); and three collages by Elke Krystufek (Economical Love, 1998). This last series was made by the Austrian artist in response to an installation by Piotr Uklanski, The Nazis (1998), which was also shown in Mirroring Evil – a frieze of portraits of famous actors who had portrayed Nazis in the movies. On each collage, Krystufek glues images from Uklanski’s installation to drawn or photographed self-portraits, in which she is naked, genitals exposed, scrutinizing the viewer through a camera lens. This is one way of turning voyeuristic urges back towards the self – like one of the criminals in Salò, who, at the end of the film, turns around the binoculars that he’d used to enjoy torture scenes – while also denouncing the chauvinistic eroticization that Uklanski’s work emblemizes. Transgression, or just bad taste? The ambiguousness of the work is coated with a layer of pseudo-moralistic varnish, though it’s actually just the next step in the exhibitionist one-upmanship typical of this artist.

Lurie’s swift response – completed just fifteen years after the opening of the Nazi camps, without any commercial or media agenda – is a long way from the deftly orchestrated scandal of the Mirroring Evil exhibition, which caused significant waves in the American press. As John Wronoski points out, Lurie’s most radical collages (such as Railroad to America) have not been shown in official exhibitions, but have instead remained in the margins of the art market. He speculates on the scandal these sorts of images would have caused at the time, and which would most certainly have ruined the artist’s career. Let us note that during the same period, in 1966, Gerhard Richter and Konrad Lueg talked about organizing an exhibit at the Niepel Gallery in Düsseldorf with the provocative title: “Sex and Extermination.” The two painters eventually renounced their plan, “believing that the attempt to juxtapose pornographic images and images from the concentration camps was sure to be a failure.” Thus, although Richter seemed to be aware of the impossibility of this artistic transgression – he later destroyed a portrait of Hitler from 1962, judged to be “too dramatic” – Lurie rejected traditional aesthetics as a whole to assert a radical and aggressive form of art, which he emphasizes as Jewish, and directs against American imperialism, capitalism, anti-Semitism and sexism. The subtext of Lurie’s collages is also a principle inherent to pornography: it “turns the body into a consumer object.” He couldn’t imagine that, decades later, Nazi imagery would also sell, and would lead to another form of “obscenity.”

Today, echoes of Nazism continue to ripple through the artistic scene, but they belong confusedly to an internationalization of the “duty to remember.” When Polish videographer Artur Zmijewski films a group of naked men and women playing tag on the former site of a gas chamber (Berek, 1999), or when he persuades an Auschwitz survivor to redo the partially erased tattoo on his forearm (80064, 2004), it clearly falls under the guise of provoking a reflection on “memory” and “forgetting”; similarly, when Maurizio Cattelan creates a sculpture of Hitler that resembles a schoolboy kneeling with hands clasped as though in prayer (Him, 2001), this is also to question “the negative part of ourselves, the possibility of evil” at the same time as “the other part, that can be in opposition to evil.” But confronting one’s “dark side” has a price tag: collector François Pinault spent the modest sum of 10 million Euros to acquire this highly prized piece. Signs of evil have finally become diluted into the commercial ideology of contemporary art: they are no more than a reminiscence – ahistorical and disembodied – of a traumatic past. Necessary transgression thus makes way for a fascination with Nazi iconography, which is recovered, recycled and sanctified within the pantheon of artistic creation.

Experiencing the Limits

Within contemporary artistic production, divided between renunciation of seeing and hypervisibility, Jérôme Zonder’s body of work – made up entirely of drawings – presents a gripping alternative. The artist has been constructing a vertiginous mental architecture for several years now, which he transcribes onto paper in every shade of gray – in pencil, charcoal or graphite. Zonder’s world is a labyrinth in which images of our culture (which are also the images of our barbarism, as Walter Benjamin would say) are spread out, as in a large fresco: Mickey brushes shoulders with the ghosts from Marcel Carné’s Children of Paradise (1945), reincarnated as “Children of Salò”; a swastika appears on the arm of a pubescent boy torn between his video game and his Kalashnikov; and, of course, gore and hardcore images invade historical ones (of Nazi camps, the atomic bomb and the Tutsi genocide). Zonder’s work could be read as a drawn transposition of Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas, an unfinished project of iconographic collecting that consisted in revealing a phenomenon of the survival of forms, from Antiquity to the Renaissance. Georges Didi-Huberman wrote that we would be justified in considering it as a tool to collect or “sample, through interspersed images, the great chaos of history.” Zonder renders all the facets of this great chaos, from the most noble to the most vile, with a graphic virtuosity that rivals Jean-Olivier Hucleux. His drawings often spill off the page, overflowing, pouring onto the walls and the ceilings of exhibition spaces.

Zonder exercises this formal mastery without ever being limited by what is considered taboo. At La Maison Rouge, for his first monographic exhibition (Fatum, 2015), the artist laid out a troubling pathway through the maze of the museum, beginning with a series of drawings of children’s games (fig. 4), replete with references to popular culture (mangas, horror films, products from our consumer society, neo-Nazi symbols), and leading to tactile reinterpretations of the images of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Sonderkommando (the series Chairs grises, 2013-2014), drawn by finger with graphite powder. These images, which carry very clear connotations, gave rise to a violent intellectual argument that I will refrain from delving into here. I will simply point out that Zonder was conscious of this polemic and that it was a big part of his desire to confront these images, which he’d been aware of for more than a decade. This transgressive desire, which the artist imagines as a response to the Lanzmannian “unrepresentable,” does not stem from a desire to subvert simply in order to subvert. Zonder’s work questions “the undiscoverable limit of drawing.” He had been searching for several years for a way to appropriate these images, through trial and error, making several sketches, all of which, according to him, were failures: “each time, the image I produced was ‘pornographic,’” he says. In the end, it was through the body, by physically going to Buchenwald, that he was able to approach the space of the page. No more intermediary between him and the paper: he drew with his finger, completely immersed in archival images, recreating a staggering tête-à-tête with horror (fig. 5).

Zonder takes a risk where Richter, once again, preferred avoidance. The German artist planned for a time to do a painting from one of the images of the Sonderkommando which he had pinned to his wall, but later renounced the idea, saying it was a problem of format: “The image has such a strong impact because it’s a small, framed photograph. I couldn’t add anything to it. If I made a painting that was too big, it would probably be to its detriment.” Zonder responds to the impossibility of painting with the possibility of drawing: “When I finally decided to confront this, it was for reasons that are inherent to drawing itself, that flow from a biological fact: the human body is a group of atoms. The Holocaust and Hiroshima symbolize the total destruction of humanity: this brings us to bodies reduced to nothing, decomposed atom by atom. The potentiality of drawing to embody this physical reality seemed to me to be far more pertinent and appropriate than painting. Drawing had to coincide with history.”

The pathway through the Fatum exhibit, which links these historical images to gore and pornographic imagery, is set up like a transgressive montage: Zonder overturns the normative hierarchy of images to disturb our relationship to the world, and to generate contaminations from one image to another. As Philippe Dagen expressed in Le Monde, some viewers will feel discomfort about the promiscuous effect of placing icons of horror in such close proximity to images considered “obscene.” Still, it’s important to point out that unlike the artists whose work was shown at Mirroring Evil, Zonder is not trying to equalize these images. In the spirit of a Grosz or a Goya, the illustrator conceives of his art as a “warning device.” In his anachronistic montages, in which images of cruelty echo each other through the centuries, it is possible to read concern for a world eaten from the inside by signs of evil, condemned to its own purulence. It is not, then, as Baptiste Brun rightly said, a matter of “provocation, and even less of unconscious naiveté. It is a matter of resistance.” For this reason, the lesson that Zonder takes from history is necessarily actualized in our media-heavy present. In several of his drawings, children busy with morbid games replay images seen on TV, in particular during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. In response we see portraits where other children clap their hands to their faces, as though to protect themselves against televisual horror, this “pornography of war” at the heart of media images.

War Porn (2015): this, precisely, is the title of German photographer Christoph Bangert’s last work. An explicit, intimidating title, reeking of sulphur. What “pornography” is he talking about here? Certainly not the pornography of sex. The book is a compilation of unbearable images taken in conflict or disaster zones (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine and Indonesia). Unpublishable images, according to the reporter (fig. 6). War Porn is an intriguing object in appearance, with a deliberately unfinished, austere binding and no cover: the title, whose typeface recalls an old typewriter, is printed on bare cardboard (fig. 7). The small format merges the model of great contemporary books of photojournalism – The Silence (1994) and The Graves (1998) by Gilles Peress, or Winterreise (2000) by Luc Delahaye – with the more conceptual aspect of artists’ books. The photographer’s unusual choice of publishing a work with pages that are partially uncut is reminiscent of Christian Boltanski’s Scratch (2002), a book composed of scratch-it pages – the fine silver coating must be scratched off in order to reveal images of corpses. In both cases, the reader finds himself face to face with his or her own voyeurism. The responsibility of seeing belongs to each person, the responsibility of scratching the images, of cutting the interstices, or, on the contrary, of abstaining. “For me, anyone who scratches is guilty,” Boltanski tells us. Bangert’s process is more subtle. Beyond any moral judgment, the photographer engages in an open reflection on the mechanism of self-censure that, in this age of extreme media righteousness and reactionism, persuades us to close our eyes before human abomination: “Our brains try to protect us by preventing us from seeing. We’re scared to risk being scared. We’re worried that the act of seeing might be morally condemnable, abusive or even voyeuristic.”

Here, Bangert is in alignment with Paolini, Lurie, Godard and Zonder: we must show horror, look it in the face, brave the terrifying eye of the Gorgon, like Perseus with his shield of polished bronze. And yet, this perilous experience of seeing, from which no one escapes unscathed, leads us necessarily back to the root of evil. In a chilling epilogue, Bangert reveals – with family photographs to support the disclosure – that his grandfather, Adolf Bangert, was a Nazi officer who worked as a doctor in the Wehrmacht (fig. 8). “My first memories of war are my grandfather’s war stories. They were glamorous, and made him and his comrades out to be heroes. It sounded like a fun, epic adventure. He only talked about his horse. […] My grandfather was a Nazi. A fervent supporter until the day he died.” All the complexity of War Porn lies in this jump cut between images of contemporary brutality and images of a criminal past. The conclusion Bangert comes to, a radical one, is in alignment with Zonder’s graphic statement: while the entertainment world, saturated with ultra-violence, simulates a reality that is larger than life, the media finds excuses to not show images of actual horror. Gilles Mayné expresses the paradox of the media system, which “limits itself to presenting the same type of ‘volatile’ and deleterious images over and over in which everything that is truly disturbing is, if not suppressed, emptied of its content, or at least reduced to so little that the ‘televisual’ shelling cuts viewers off more and more from a tangible reality, all the while setting up – and this is more serious – the conditions for an aetheticization of obscenity.” Lifting humanity’s dress to show us its “monstrous nudity”: this is, from now on, the photographer’s credo. To see, in order to refuse being blinded. To see, in order to thwart the “pornography” of images.

And yet War Porn only resolves part of the problem – the questions it raises don’t evoke a categorical response. To see or not to see horror? Everything depends, definitively, on the nature and the use of the images, as well as the intentions of their authors – the extreme representations that we have explored has amply demonstrated this. A photograph by a reporter in Syria, taken to give visibility to an obscured event, is radically different from a decapitation scene filmed by Salafist jihadists in the same place and broadcast on the Internet to provoke fear in the Western world. So it is also the conditions under which the images are shown – I cannot stress more the decisive importance of this – that will determine the choice (or the refusal) to look horror in the face, whether it’s associated with “obscene” imagery or not. To banish static thinking, to experience the ethics of seeing – while maintaining a (precarious) equilibrium between vision and blindness: this is the grueling exercise that viewers – and, even more so, the historian of images – are asked to carry out, such that they do not succumb to either the seductive and corruptive grasp of images of horror, nor to the curse of the “unrepresentable.”


The author wishes to thank Christoph Bangert, Eva Hober, Chris Shultz (Boris Lurie Art Foundation) and Jérôme Zonder for allowing the reproduction of the images featured in this article, as well as Pierre Wat and Ophir Levy for their insightful remarks. 

NATHAN Réra is a lecturer in contemporary art history at The University of Poitiers, and a Research Affiliate at CRIHAM. His writings examine the artistic and documentary forms that address the memory of genocides, as well as the study of relationships between art disciplines. In 2014, he published a reviewed and expanded version of his doctoral thesis:  Rwanda, entre crise morale et malaise esthétique. Les médias, la photographie et le cinéma à l’épreuve du génocide des Tutsi (1994-2014) [Rwanda: Between Moral Crisis and Aesthetic Malaise. The Tutsi Genocide in the Media, Photography and Film (1994-2014)].

G. Bartholeyns, P.-O. Dittmar, V. Jolivet, Image et transgression au Moyen Âge [Image and Transgression in the Middle Ages], Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 2008, p. 176.

Let us note, as these three authors have, the nuance between the noun “transgression” and the adjective “transgressive”: “The distinction between that which is a transgression and that which is transgressive is important. We cannot confound the forbidden with the shocking: that which shocks is not always forbidden (or even negative) and that which is forbidden doesn’t necessarily shock. The forbidden is such because of commonly held values, but these values coincide more or less with individual values” (ibid., p. 14).

This expression is borrowed from D. Baqué, Mauvais genre(s). Érotisme, pornographie, art contemporain [Wrong Kind/Genres. Eroticism, Pornography and Contemporary Art], Paris, Éditions du Regard, 2002.

M. Chion, Stanley Kubrick : l’humain, ni plus ni moins [Stanley Kubrick: The Human Being, No More, No Less], Paris, Cahiers du cinéma, 2005, p. 307.

Bataille, Georges (1977). Story of the Eye. New York: Urizen Books.

Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others. New York: Picador/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003, 126.

Cf. F. Vörös (dir.), Cultures pornographiques. Anthologie des porn studies [Pornographic Cultures. An Anthology of Porn Studies], Paris, Éditions Amsterdam, 2015.

Since the space of this paper doesn’t allow for a full exploration of the intricacies of defining the terms “eroticism” and “pornography,” I would refer the reader to J. Maisonneuve, “Quelques soucis de définition,” [“A Few Problems of Definition”] in Connexions, 2007, 87, p. 13-17, as well as to the works of P. Baudry, La Pornographie et ses images [Pornography and its Images], Paris, Armand Colin / Masson, 1997, p. 41-42, 145-146, and of E. Bayon, Le Cinéma obscène [Obscene Cinema], Paris, L’Harmattan, 2007.

A. Germa, F. Bas, “ ‘Montrez ce sexe que l’on ne saurait voir’: le cinéma français à l’épreuve du sexe (1992-2002)” [“ ‘Show Me the Sex That I Must Not See’: Sex in French Film (1992-2002),” Le Temps des médias, 2003, 1, p. 99.

10 Susan Sontag, On Photography. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1977.

11 L. Bertrand Dorléac, L’Ordre sauvage. Violence, dépense et sacré dans l’art des années

1950-1960 [Violence, Expenditure and the Sacred in Art from 1950-1960], Paris, Gallimard, 2004, p. 57.

12 O. Muehl, Sortir du bourbier [Out of the Quagmire], Dijon, Les Presses du réel, 2001, p. 123 (Nuremberg, 1977).

13 Muehl sexually abused young girls between the ages of twelve and sixteen within the small community of which he’d made himself the guru. He was sentenced to prison for pedophilia in 1991.

14 J. Clair, De Immundo. Apophatisme et apocatastase dans l’art d’aujourd’hui [De Immundo. Apophatism and Apocatastasis in the Art of Today], Paris, Galilée, 2004, p. 67.

15 A. Habib, “Salo et La Grande bouffe. Remarques sur une ‘réception impossible’” [“Salo and The Big Feast. Remarks on an ‘impossible reception’”], Hors champs, January 4, 2001 [online]. 16 H. Joubert-Laurencin, Salò ou les 120 journées de Sodome de Pier Paolo Pasolini [Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom by Pier Paolo Pasolini], Chatou, Les Éditions de la Transparence, 2012, p. 28.

17 Clair, De Immundo, p. 33.

18 “My God! Why have you abandoned us?” screams one of the victims, immersed in a tub of excrement.

19 Pasolini obviously knew of the Viennese Actionists’ performances to have been able to make the Italian version of Dusan Makavejev’s Sweet Movie (1974) – one of the most harrowing scenes is the “eating-swallowing-vomiting-scatology scene played by Muehl and his group from the Therapie-Komune” (Joubert-Laurencin, Salò ou les 120 journées de Sodome, p. 39). Also shown in this film are the unbearable images of the Katyn mass graves. 20 In his earlier film, Pigsty (Porcile, 1969), Pasolini told the story of a young man – whose father is no other than Hitler’s grimacing spitting image – and his zoophilic passion for pigs.

21 The first hardcore projections happened in the United States towards the end of the 1960s, while the Hays Code collapsed. Despite multiple lawsuits, Gérard Damiano’s Deep Throat (1972) brought in nearly 12 million dollars in revenue. In France, the X-rating law was passed on October 31st 1975, even as films such as Norbert Terry’s Emmanuelle (1974) or Hommes entre eux [Men Between Themselves] (1976), the first homosexual French hardcore film, appeared onscreen. Cf. J. Zimmer (dir.), Le Cinéma X, Paris, La Musardine, 2012.

22 S. Friedländer, Reflets du nazisme [Reflections of Nazism], Paris, Éditions du Seuil, 1982, p. 16.* The translator wishes to note that this citation is taken partly from Thomas Weyr’s 1982 translation of S. Friendländer, but not entirely, since Weyr’s translation abridged and changed the original significantly.

23 Ibid. T. Weyr’s translation, p. 74. On the subject of the eroticization of Nazism, see also M. Prazan, “Barbarie et antijudaïsme. Du massacre de Lod aux connexions pornographiques,” [“Barbarism and Antisemitism. From the Lod Airport Massacre to Pornographic Connections”] Pardès, 2005, 38, p. 49-64; O. Levy, “Fantasmes sur grand écran” [Fantasies on the Big Screen], L’Histoire, Spetember 2014, 403, p. 54-55.

24 S. Daney, “Le travelling de Kapo” [“The Tracking Shot in Kapo”], Trafic, automne 1992, 4, p. 11.

25 The theme of (sexual) passion between a Nazi officer and a young Jewish woman would be explored elsewhere – and in a more convincing manner – by Paul Verhoeven in Black Book (Zwartboek, 2006). Cf. N. Réra, Au jardin des délices. Entretiens avec Paul Verhoeven [In the Garden of Earthly Delights. Interviews with Paul Verhoeven], Pertuis, Rouge Profond, 2010, p. 137-175.

26 For more about this text and its impact on critical thinking, see in particular A. de Baecque, “Le cas Kapo. ‘De l’abjection,’ ou comment Jacques Rivette forge une morale de la représentation des camps de la mort” [“The case of Kapo. ‘On Abjection,’ or how Jacques Rivette forges a morality of representation of death camps”], in Revue d’Histoire de la Shoah [The History of the Holocaust Review], “Les écrans de la Shoah. La Shoah au regard du cinéma” [“The Holocaust’s Screens. The Holocaust Through the Cinematic Lens”], July – December 2011, 195, p. 211-238; S. Bou, “Premiers regards sur la scène des camps” [“First Glimpses of the Camps”], Revue d’Histoire de la Shoah, op. cit., p. 255-293.

27 Jacques Rivette, On Abjection, translated by David Phelps with the assistance of Jeremi Szaniawski.

28 “Hiroshima, notre amour” [“Hiroshima, Our Love”], Cahiers du cinéma, July 1959, 97, p. 11.

29 This reversal would lead to a famous brawl between the two directors, over hypothetical images of gas chambers filmed by the Nazis: while Lanzmann said he wanted to destroy them, Godard boasted that, with the help of a “good investigative journalist,” he would find them one day.

30 On this subject, see O. Levy, “Se payer de mots ? Godard, l’histoire, les ‘camps’” [“Empty Talk? Godard, History and the ‘Camps’”], Critique, March 2015, 814, p. 165-177.

31 Images in Spite of All, Georges Didi-Huberman trans. Shane B. Lillis, University of Chicago Press: 2008.

32 O. Levy, Les Images clandestines. De la sédimentation d’un imaginaire des “camps”et de son empreinte fossile sur le cinéma français et américain (des années 1960 à nos jours) [Clandestine Images. From the Sedimentation of a Fantasy of the “Camps” and its Fossil Imprint on French and American Film (from 1960 to today)], doctoral thesis supervised by Sylvie Lindeperg, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, 2013, p. 236.

33 Ibid.

34 G. Bataille, L’Érotisme [Eroticism], Paris, Les Éditions de Minuit, 2011, p. 58-66 (1957).

35 I’m referring here to the concept developed by Bartholeyns, Dittmar and Jolivet in Image et transgression au Moyen Âge [Image and Transgression in the Middle Ages], p. 127-150.

36 W. Jung, introduction to the catalogue KZ – Kampf – Kunst. Boris Lurie: NO!Art, Cologne, NS-Dokumentationszentrum der Stadt Köln/ NO!Art Publishing, 2014, p. 7.

37 B. Lurie, “Involvement Show Statement (1961),” in B. Lurie and S. Krim, NO!Art: Pin-ups, Excrement, Protest, Jew-art, Berlin/ Cologne, Edition Hundertmark, 1988, p. 39.

38 Cf. J. Wronoski, H. Hatry, C. Schultz et al., Boris Lurie. No!, New York, Boris Lurie Art

Foundation/Chelsea Art Museum, 2011.

39 B. O’Doherty, “Introduction,” in B. Lurie and S. Krim, NO!Art, p. 17.

40 N. L. Kleeblatt (dir.), Mirroring Evil: Nazi Imagery/Recent Art, New Brunswick/New Jersey/ London, Rutgers University Press/ The Jewish Museum, 2002.

41 During a conference at the Université Paris IV, Paul Bernard- Nouraud gave an intelligent reading of Libera’s aim. He pointed out that the Polish artist was arrested in the early 1980s “for printing clandestine papers and producing drawings that were judged to be pornographic” (P. Bernard-Nouraud, “L’oeuvre de Zbignew Libera et l’obsession de l’imagerie nazie” [“Zbignew Libera’s Work and the Obsession with Nazi Imagery”] February 6, 2015).

42 Cf. C. Schmid, “Shocking the Audience, Shocking the Artist: Aesthetic Affinities to the Avant-Garde in Elke Krystufek’s Work,” in R. Halle and R. Steingröver, After the Avant-Garde. Contemporary German and Austrian Experimental Film, New York, Camden House, 2008.

43 J. Wronoski, “Boris Lurie : A Life in the Camps,” in KZ – Kampf – Kunst. Boris Lurie: NO! art, p. 220.

44 A. Dickson, “Chronologie” [Chronology], in M. Godfrey and N. Serota (dir.), Gerhard Richter. Panorama, Paris, Éditions du Centre Georges Pompidou, 2012, p. 284 (Tate Publishing, 2011).

45 Bayon, Le Cinéma obscène [Obscene Cinema], p. 55.

46 Charged with violating the dignity of Holocaust victims, the video was removed from the exhibition Side by Side. Poland – Germany. A 1000 Years of Art and History at the Martin-Gropius Bau in Berlin (2011).

47 On the subject of this video, see Levy’s insightful analysis in Les Images clandestines [Clandestine Images], p. 490-491.

48 M. Cattelan and C. Grenier, Le Saut dans le vide [The Leap into the Void], Paris, Seuil, 2011, p. 75.

49 See, on this subject, N. Heinich, Le Paradigme de l’art contemporain. Structures d’une révolution artistique [The Paradigm of Contemporary Art. Structures of an Artistic Revolution], Paris, Gallimard, 2014.

50 Paul McCarthy, who Zonder cites explicitly in a series of drawings inspired by his performances (Les Fruits de McCarthy [The Fruits of McCarthy]), becomes one of his models: in his photo series Documents, presented in the exhibition Au-delà du spectacle [Beyond the Show] (2000) at the Centre Georges Pompidou, the American artist mixed images of Nazi Germany and Walt Disney characters, “turning utopias into terrifying acts of savagery, whose successive masks would be Hitler and Disneyland” (Baqué, Mauvais genre(s), p. 82).

51 G. Didi-Huberman, “Échantillonner le chaos. Aby Warburg et l’atlas photographique de la Grande Guerre” [“Sampling Chaos. Aby Warburg and the Photographic Atlas of World War I”], Études photographiques [Photography Studies], 27, May 2011, published online November 18,

2011. URL: http://etudesphotographiques.revues.org/3173.

52 Cf. G. Wajcman, “De la croyance photographique” [“On Photographic Belief”], Les Temps modernes [Modern Times], March-April-May 2001, 613, p. 47-83; Didi-Huberman, Images malgré tout [Images Above All]; S. Lindeperg, Nuit et Brouillard. Un film dans l’histoire [Night and Fog. A Film in History], Paris, Odile Jacob, 2007, p. 109-113.

53 The showing of Zonder’s drawings preceded the projection of László Nemes’s film, Son of Saul (Saul Fia), which won the Grand Prix at Cannes 2015. In a searing immersion in the world of the Sonderkommando at Auschwitz-Birkenau, one sequence in the film shows the moment when Greek Jew Alex takes clandestine shots at the edge of a pile of bodies. This episode had already been represented, very differently in terms of narrative and form, by Polish director Wanda Jakubowska in La Fin de notre monde [The End of Our World] (Koniec naszego swiata, 1964).

54 Bismuth, “Jérôme Zonder ou la mort à crédit” [Jérôme Zonder or Death on Credit], in Jérôme Zonder, Paris, Galerie Eva Hober, 2013, p. 28.

55 N. Réra, “Faire corps avec l’histoire. Dialogue avec Jérôme Zonder” [“Becoming One with History. A Dialogue with Jérôme Zonder”], in Jérôme Zonder. Fatum, Lyon/Paris, Fage éditions/La Maison rouge, 2015, p. 39.

56 G. Richter, N. Serota, “Je n’ai rien à dire et je le dis” [“I Have Nothing to Say and I’ll Say It”], in Panorama, p. 25.

57 Ibid. p. 38.

58 P. Dagen, “Jérôme Zonder sème l’effroi à la Maison Rouge” [Jérôme Zonder Sews Fear at the Maison Rouge”], Le Monde, 14 mars 2015, p. 14.

59 B. Brun, “Au palais des haches. Le labyrinthe de Jérôme Zonder” [“In the Palace of Axes. Jérôme Zonder’s Labyrinth”], in Jérôme Zonder. Fatum, p. 30.

60 Unpublished interview with the author, Paris, January 29, 2009.

61 C. Bangert, War Porn, Berlin, Kehrer, 2015, p. 170-173 (*in French – the translator was unable to find the original to cite from, so this is a translation of a translation).

62 Bangert, War Porn, p. 170-173 (*see above).

63 On this subject, see C. Bangert, “Réveillez-vous !” [“Wake Up!”], remarks gathered by M. Boussion, 6Mois, Spring-Summer 2015, p. 130-140.

64 G. Mayné, Pornographie, violence obscène, érotisme [Pornography, Obscene Violence, and Eroticism], Paris, Descartes & Cie, 2001, p. 58.

About Boris Lurie

by Gertrude Stein
Published in the leaflet for the Boris Lurie show at Gallery Gertrude Stein, New York, 1963

The work of Boris Lurie is powerful stuff. He feels that the ivory tower cannot substitute for real involvement in life; art is an instrument of influence and stimulation. He does not want to converse, he shouts out loud, so that everyone understands. He takes as his symbol the “girly” picture, America’s home-grown brand of pornography. Repudiating conventional manners, he shakes up the viewer; at any cost he strives to make us take heed of our reality, Lurie forces upon us the bitter vision of the cruelly smiling, heartless advertising pin-up girl. Her picture hangs in the locker rooms; it teases the “tired business man” who surreptitiously stuffs a copy of Playboy into his attache case; movie stars become commodities to be measured in inches, the dreams of America. Our environment is polluted with sick eroticism and callous indifference, “No” appears in Lurie’s paintings: No! No! No! to the accepted, the cruelty, the desperation and despair which pre­vails, to conformism and the materialistic. It is a strong “NO” in a flood of mass-produced “YESSES”. And so: he tears the pin-ups; he tosses them down on his canvas to fall where they may. His stunning statement has been made.

The Artist as Provocateur

DAVID H. KATZ confronts the challenging work of Boris Lurie

Published in: Jewish Quarterly, London, Autumn 2005, Number 199

Boris Lurie was born in Leningrad in 1924 into an educated, highly cultured Jewish community. He and his family moved to Riga, Latvia, in 1925-6, where his talent as an artist was recognized at an early age. In 1941, when the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, Lurie and his father were taken prisoner. For the next four years they endured a hellish passage through the ghettos and concentration camps of Riga, Salapils, Stutthof, and finally Buchenwald-Magdeburg in Germany. His mother, sister and grandmother were all murdered. These primal losses, the Holocaust and all its psychological ramifications became essential and indelible themes in Lurie’s painting, sculpture, writing and poetry, themes that he neither subliminated nor shied away from.

NO!Art, the movement Lurie founded in 1959, ‘out of desperation’, along with Sam Goodman and Stanley Fisher, set out to explore certain uncomfortable truths about the nature of art, commerce, history and society – truths that art dealers, museums, patrons, collectors and the general public did not necessarily want to hear, especially in an era of prosperity and conformity. NO!Art represented a visceral reaction to two of art’s most celebrated and commercially dominant movements: Abstract Expressionism, which was on the wane, and Pop Art, which in the 1960s became the dominant visual paradigm for the rest of the century. While influenced by both movements, NO!Art opposed an Internationalist style, which, as it had in architecture, effectively drained national, cultural and political significance from painting, and elevated pure formalism to an aesthetic dogma. As such, Abstract Expressionism was in perfect synch with America’s economic and political dominance after the Second World War: it had no nationality, no politics and, after the initial shock faded, was taken up by the media and became as pleasing and innocuous in a townhouse in Omaha as in a hotel lobby in Kuala Lumpur.

Then came Pop Art, which appropriated and transmuted traditionally commercial and ‘low’ art into a ‘fine’ art that was instantly recognizable, archly self-referencing, clever and witty, and yet easily understood, since it sprang from common images. Thus, it was eminently marketable and quickly validated by the public, and by collectors, galleries, museums and critics, who passed over its apolitical, non-confrontational content by extolling its irony, its coolness and the hip detachment with which it mirrored the youth culture of the early sixties.

NO!Art’s self-proclaimed aim was to bring the ‘subjects of real life’ back into art. For Lurie, Fisher, Goodman and their fellow malcontents, these were the difficult, dangerous issues of repression, destruction, depravity, sex, occupation, colonialism, imperialism, racism and sexism—the kind of edgy, discomforting, in-your-face content that makes people put down their plastic glass of Chardonnay and walk out of galleries. It’s not the kind of art that ends up on bed sheets or shower curtains, or hanging tastefully in limited editions in suburban homes; and this was especially true when Lurie based his raw and uncompromising work on his personal encounter with the Final Solution. The results were invariably shocking, disturbing and provocative – and, of course, controversial.

From the beginning, when he resumed his painting career in New York in 1946, Lurie refused to flinch from putting his experiences in the camps on canvas, despite a reluctance among survivors to dwell on, or even publicly refer to, their wartime ordeal. In paintings like ‘Back From Work’ (1946), and ‘Roll Call in Concentration Camp’ (1946), Lurie’s stretched skeletal figures, fluid lines and deep tonal palette evoke El Greco and Goya; ‘Entrance’ (1946), a portrait of two wasted Sonderkommandos flanking the walkway to the crematorium into which they are about to shovel bodies, is a poignant depiction of the degradation of human dignity to which the SS aspired.

Under the influence of de Kooning and later Jackson Pollack and other Abstract Expressionists, Lurie abandoned figurative painting in the 1950s to explore a number of disparate styles and modes. His series of ‘Dismembered Women’ deals with the loss of the female members of his family. A suite of ‘Feel Paintings’ begins his long obsession with American symbols of libertine femininity: burlesque dancers, dancehall girls, centerfold models and pin-ups. This was an obsession he returned to, big time, in the 1970s, when he combined blatantly pornographic images from girlie magazines with typography to produce a series of powerful poster collages called ‘Hard Writings’.

In the late 1950s Lurie began a series of works heavily informed by his experiences as an involuntary guest in Hitler’s Europe, the most notorious of which was his 1959 ‘Railroad Collage,’ an elaboration of an earlier work, ‘Flatcar Assemblage by Adolph Hitler 1945,’ a Dadaesque appropriation of a horrifying photograph of stacked corpses on a flatcar at Buchenwald. His ironic repositioning of that image wasn’t quite enough for Lurie; he elaborated it further by superimposing a cut-out from a girlie magazine showing an attractive woman lowering her panties and called it ‘Railroad Collage.’

‘Saturation Painting BUCHENWALD,’ also from 1959, surrounds the celebrated photograph of emaciated Buchenwald survivors staring numbly out from behind a barbed wire fence with cut-outs of nude and semi-nude women drawn from the girlie magazines that, led by Playboy, were then emerging from below the counter into the culture of modern urban America.

Naturally, in 1959, Lurie’s juxtapositions of pornography and Nazism, of pin-ups and death carts, of vulvas and gas chambers, provoked spasms of shock and outrage: it gave voice to the unspeakable affinities between sex and sadism, volition and violation, pleasure and torment, love and death. People fled the gallery in a rage, letters were sent to editors, there was condemnation, controversy, uproar—everything a serious artist seeks to provoke.

‘I would say they were shocked,’ says Lurie. ‘When you combine extremes like death or injury with sexual themes, it shocks even today. If you use pin-up girls in order to comment on serious things, it’s confusing, because the closed-minded person would react to this semi-pornography in a very hostile way. The person whose mind is more open would laugh it off. But they wouldn’t take it seriously.’

In the years to come, Lurie continued to explore the long shadow of the Holocaust, in etchings like ‘Stars of David on Swastika’ (1962) and a series of ‘No-Sculptures’ (1964-6), some made of excrement. He also created assemblages incorporating the infamous iconography of the yellow Star of David and, in 1973, a provocative series of ‘Chain Works’: ‘Bowl of Chains’, ‘Chained Dress’, ‘Dried Meat Box with Chains’, ‘Chained Female Shoes’, ‘Chained Image’, ‘Chained Rope’, ‘Chained Roses’ and ‘Chained Toilet Paper’. His 1964 ‘Death Sculpture’, consisting of chicken heads entrapped in a block of synthetic resin, which Lurie says ‘had something to do with the sudden death of my father’, anticipates Damien Hirst’s modern sculptures of sharks and sheep suspended in formaldehyde. Why chicken heads? ‘I wanted to encapsulate death, and that was the only thing that was easily available.’

Lurie’s brutally honest—some would say cynical, others self-serving—opinions on the business of art were made clear in 1970, in a statement written for the exhibition Art and Politics at the Karlsruhe Kunstverein in Germany, where, in a peculiar and fitting irony, the NO!Art Movement is celebrated and studied as one of the major art movements of the mid-twentieth century:

NO!Art is anti worldmarket—investment art: (artworldmarket-investment art equals cultural manipulation).

NO!Art is against ‘clinical’, ‘scientific’ estheticism’s: (such estheticism’s are not art).

NO!Art is against the pyramiding of artworldmarket-investment-fashion-decorations (‘minimal’, ‘color field’, ‘conceptual’): such games-decorations are the sleeping pills of culture. It is against ‘phantasy’ in the service of the artmarket.

NO!Art is against all artworldmarket ‘salon’ art.

NO!Art is anti Pop-art: (Pop-art is reactionary—it celebrates the glories of consumer society, and it mocks only at what the lower classes consume – the can of soup, the cheap shirt. Pop-art is chauvinistic. It sabotages and detracts from a social art for all.)

And so on.

(An extensive selection of his work and that of the other NO!Art artists may be found at www.no-art.info).

+ + + + +

Earlier this year, along with photographer, archivist, gallery owner and friend Clayton Patterson, I interviewed Lurie as he recuperated from quadruple bypass surgery at a friend’s Park Avenue apartment, while his chaotic and art-crammed East Village apartment was being renovated. His recent inclusion in a group show at the Clayton Gallery & Outlaw Art Museum, New York, entitled The ’80s: 326 Years of Hip, along with Taylor Mead, Mary Beach and the late Herbert Huncke, three other notable octogenarian artists, served to refocus attention on the raw energy and the uncompromising nature of his art. At 80, Lurie was as sharp, incisive and opinionated as artists a third of his age. He is, and remains, as provocative as his art.

David Katz: Boris, in your writing you have said that ‘courage is the secret ingredient of all art’. Why is that so?

Boris Lurie: Because you have to do what you really feel is right, not look back at what is popular at the time or what you think people might like—or, to be more exact, a small group of people, because those are the ones who dominate the art world. The art world is not dominated by democracy; 99.9 per cent of the people don’t even understand what the aesthetes are talking about, and often they themselves don’t understand what they’re talking about. So it’s a very exclusive club, it’s a little club. And the young artist is directly or indirectly aware of it, because he sees some people are going someplace, and other people are going no place, so he’s looking at the work they’re doing; there must be a reason. If he decides to go his own way as much as possible, and to disregard all that, he must have a lot of courage, because he might get no place. And these are not easy decisions for a young artist to make, because if everything in the art market were completely false, then it would be easy to stay away. But a lot of good things seep through into the art market.

David Katz: Why did you start the NO!Art movement?

Boris Lurie: We started it out of desperation. It wasn’t an intellectual programme worked out by some philosophers or in some university. It started out of desperation because we were already some time in the art world, and finally we saw what was going on and said ‘To hell with you, we want to be artists but we’ll do it for ourselves, we won’t be involved with you.’ And if they want to, they can try to get us.

David Katz: And the aesthetics, was it more from the eye or more from the head?

Boris Lurie: The aesthetics was to strongly react against anything that’s bugging you. [Laughs] Also, not to be exclusive in art, especially the aesthetic in art of that period that was going into abstraction. For instance, Clement Greenberg was a powerful critic at the time, dealing with all kinds of aesthetic questions about the two-dimensional surface of art, with the making of a form, formalism. So art became very formalistic and a completely separate area, away from everyday life, from history or anything, outside the real world.

David Katz: When you came to America and resumed your life as an artist, were you intent on getting into the art movements of the time, or were you interested in making art about your experiences, or was it simply to start a new life and forget these experiences?

Boris Lurie: I was young, I had been painting ever since I was a kid, I was sort of recognized in school as the artist in the class, and if something had to be drawn, then I was asked to do it. And I made some money on illustrations even in Soviet Latvia, made good money, very good money. I was 16 years old, so I had a little professional work, like book covers and illustrations for a newspaper. When I came here, I tried to continue and do my own work, and the first subjects were indeed what I had seen or imagined.

But if I wanted to be a ‘professional’ artist, I had to know something about art history and learn how to relate to it in some form. Then, for instance, Picasso was the big contemporary star, so you had to deal with him. You were obviously influenced by him, everybody was influenced by him, so you had to kind of work your way through that. And, in a very childish way, I believed that art is something where you can tell what’s good and what’s bad, just like what’s a good car and what’s a bad car. I believed that there are experts who really know what art is, the people in the museums or wherever, and they dictate what’s good and what’s bad – they know and I know nothing. And that led to the art market, why this gallery is considered so great and another one considered nothing. What is the reason for it?

David Katz: But it doesn’t seem to me from the kind of work that you did that you cared at all for the art market, I mean some of the things you did were obviously calculated not to be in the art market.

Boris Lurie: But that came later in the 60s and the late 50s when we kind of rebelled against the whole thing, and one reason was because we found a foothold among the co-operative galleries on East 10th street. Different groups of artists would rent a place, the rentals were comparatively cheap – 10 or 15 dollars would rent a place – and they would run a gallery, a regular gallery, and everybody would be able to exhibit work.

David Katz: No dealers?

Boris Lurie: No dealers. You’d hire a girl or a boy to sit there and keep it open, and of course hardly anything was sold. But there was an awful lot of attendance because they were all located in one area and at one time there must have been twenty or thirty galleries. So when there was an opening, there were big crowds, it was very good.

David Katz: And the people who formed these co-ops, they were like-minded, aesthetically?

Boris Lurie: Well, no, actually they were different; the majority were Abstract Expressionists, young Abstract Expressionists, under the influence of Pollock and Klein . . . The March Gallery was a little different in that it opened its doors to any kind of movement, even going back to representational, it actually favoured more representational. The paintings that I showed there at the beginning were sort of semi-representational figurative paintings. And then the people gradually lost interest. After the March Gallery broke up we had the March Group, which was the same thing as NO!Art, with Stanley Fischer and Sam Goodman and about ten or fifteen more that participated in exhibitions.

David Katz: And what was the basic ideological or theoretical thrust?

Boris Lurie: The basic one was total self-expression, and inclusion of any kind of social or political activity that was in the world, that took place in the world. What was also favoured was a kind of protest, an outcry, anything that might be considered a radical expression, and that didn’t necessarily coincide with what was permitted under the then current aesthetics.

David Katz: Was Judaism a part of your particular personal expression?

Boris Lurie: Yeah, but it wasn’t only Judaism, it was sexual problems, personal problems, the family, anything, anything at all.

David Katz: Were people shocked when you did these juxtapositions of Holocaust imagery and pin-ups?

Boris Lurie: Yeah, they were. I would say they were shocked. Everybody was shocked about the exhibition. They were shocked, that’s true, and I would say that the ordinary artists were the ones who liked it least because they felt threatened by this . . . After the war in America and even in New York it was a taboo subject. Probably the Jews just didn’t want to hear about it any more. Most of the people that I knew in the art world never knew that I was in a concentration camp. It was never talked about.
So at that time everything opened up. There was also a general historical background to this, when Castro won the war in Cuba and Khrushchev became the head of the Soviet Union and loosened everything up. All over the world there was an atmosphere of loosening up.

David Katz: Why were you so interested in girlie magazine imagery?

Boris Lurie: If there was one symbol of American big city life it would be the pin-up girl and all that implies. In the first place, the pin-up girl was a symbol you couldn’t avoid. It was all around, used in advertising, wherever you went; even in the Second World War it was put on the bomber planes. In addition to that, the post-war period was very puritan; I came from abroad, from Europe and Germany, which sexually was completely free and open . . . When I came here after the war, all of a sudden sexual intercourse was based on your ability to spend! If you wanted to go on a date, the minimum that you had to spend was 10 dollars. You had to spend some money, or the girl wouldn’t go with you, simple as that. So there was tremendous sexual pressure, especially if you were a young man and you came from Europe, where everything was wide open. According to our thinking this should also come out in art, it shouldn’t be hidden under the carpet.

David Katz: You know there’s a school of thought that the Holocaust is beyond art, or even beyond comprehension.

Boris Lurie: You mean that the reaction of the older generation and some younger people is that the Holocaust is something holy, that shouldn’t be touched . . .

David Katz: People feel it is a subject that dwarfs artistic interpretation or aesthetic investigation.

Boris Lurie: If the people who lived through that era want the remembrance and teaching of the Holocaust to continue, they have to turn it over to new generations, which view it from different points of view.

Clayton Patterson: But what can happen is you end up with something like Spiegelman’s Maus, in which Jews in the concentration camp were portrayed as mice, the lowest form of rodent. Boris was very offended by that.

Boris Lurie: That is really insulting. To me that is pornography, the real pornography, not a woman being laid by a man. Maus is a packaged thing, in which Spiegelman calls the Jews mice, the few Jews who had the courage to go into hiding—and you had to have courage to go into hiding, because the fear was that, if you were caught, they would shoot you on the spot. It could happen and I believe it did happen. In order to hide for two years you had to have a lot of courage—you’re not a mouse. It’s your own volition, it’s your own will.

David Katz: Was it intuition, because a lot of people didn’t know but sensed something very bad was going to happen?

Boris Lurie: By 1943 you knew what would happen, at the beginning you didn’t know what was going to happen. So some people took the initiative upon themselves, voluntarily, to go into hiding. You had to have a lot of guts, and you had to have some money or some goods, or some contact with Christian people who would hide you. But you had to have a strong character to say ‘I’m not going along, I’m going into hiding.’ And this guy describes it as sort of a joke, they’re fearful people, they’re mice hiding in mouseholes.

Nevertheless, this book has been adopted by the liberal establishment, because it avoids everything. They don’t care whether you call a person a mouse who’s been hiding from the law for many years in Poland.

David Katz: How much of survival do you think was cunning and intelligence and how much was luck?

Boris Lurie: Luck was the main thing, obviously luck. And cunning and intelligence were, let’s say, second. Cunning and intelligence wouldn’t have helped you one iota without luck.

David Katz: You don’t have that postmodern, end-of-history, ironic, everything’s-been-done attitude?

Boris Lurie: That’s absolute nonsense. As far as I’m concerned somebody can be a terrific painter and can paint like an Abstract Expressionist today, it’s perfectly valid, but they want to divide it all up into neat little categories. But what it’s really about is not history or even art history, what it’s really about is fashion. You’ve got to come out with a new model and make it successful and then immediately—don’t let it get old, don’t let it develop – go onto a new thing.

David Katz: All we have now is a proliferation of styles?

Boris Lurie: There is a proliferation of styles, but it doesn’t mean that there is no reality underneath. I think even the guy who coined the phrase about the End of History [Francis Fukuyama] renounced it. You’re living with slogans, Saatchi Art, this art and that art, and after a while it all means nothing . . . after a short while.

David Katz: Is what attracts you in art something that is direct and immediate?

Boris Lurie: I think it’s nothing more or less than basic personal expression, which can be associated with great philosophical and historical movements. But basically it has to be very simple and direct and personal and not thought out and justified by all kinds of theories. In other words, if you’re half-way knowledgeable about art and know something about art history and you see something that grabs you for some reason, then it’s meaningful. If it doesn’t grab you, then it’s nothing, it’s just canvas with some paint on it. And if it grabs you, then usually it is because, well, the artist himself was grabbed by it.

David H. Katz is an artist, photographer and writer working in New York City. His artwork has been published in Zeek Web magazine, and exhibited at Makor Gallery, and Diamonds and Oranges Gallery in New York. His work also appears on his website ZtakArchives.com, as well as a number of other on-line galleries. He has also written for a wide variety of publications, including The New Statesman, High Times, TANK, The Villager, The Portable Lower East Side, Leg World, Rap Express and Jewish Quarterly. His Infoir, The Father Fades, appeared in Transformation, A Journal of Literature, Ideas and the Arts, Spring, 2005.

Jews, Nazis, Women: Trauma And Suffering In Boris Lurie’s Art”

by Donald Kuspit

About the Scull pop-art investment gang. This I regret to say Jewish gang is asshole opposite of Warsaw ghetto fighters. Asshole end of Masada past and present. Someone remind these cursed greedy art culture manipulators artist blood dealers of a young beatnik artist. Not so long ago. Named Adolf Hitler. Whose career might have been different. If…another clique, at another time…He would not then have to sow all over the landscape of Europe. His real-life art-masterpieces.
Boris Lurie, 1975(1)

The experience that informs Boris Lurie’s art—his pin-up, excrement, protest, and “Jew-art”—were the four years (1941-45) he spent in Nazi concentration camps. Born in 1924, these were the years of his adolescence, the time of life when sexual and aggressive impulses seem almost uncontrollably intense—a time when one is energized and dominated by one’s drives—and, perhaps more crucially, a time when one is likely to suffer what Erik Erikson calls an “identity crisis.” It seems clear that in a concentration camp—a place where one’s mother and sisters were “liquidated,” to use the Nazi’s felicitous term for “annihilation”—is not the best place to acquire an identity let alone resolve one’s sexual and aggressive problems. The concentration camp is hardly a “facilitating environment,” to use the psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott’s term, a psychosocial space in which one can realize one’s creative potential. Nor was it a place in which one could learn to sublimate one’s own instincts in favor of the social good, for there was, or appeared to be, no social good there. It was a barbaric place, unfit to live and thrive in, a sort of negative social space dedicated to death. Indeed, those imprisoned in the camps could not help but live their own deaths. It was indecent, inhospitable, impersonal, dehumanizing, invented by hatred. Put simply, it was unfit for human life, unsanitary and insane, to suggest its absurdity.

It was not the place to mature into a civilized person—not a civil society in which the rights of others were respected. Victimized by his drives and uncertain of his identity—and told that he was a “subhuman” Jew (an Untermensch, a lower form of being) rather than a “superhuman” Aryan Nazi (an Übermensch)—the adolescent Lurie could not help being conflicted and fragmented, could not help developing what Erikson calls a “diffused” and finally a “negative identity.”(2) It is this negative identity—negative attitude–that fuels Lurie’s art, that is its substance and substratum. It is worth noting that in Christian society Jews have a kind of “negative identity”—the opposite of the Christian’s “positive identity,” and as such the Christian’s antagonist and enemy. Dominance and submission—escape from submission by negating whatever dominated his thoughts, as sex and the Nazis undoubtedly did, as his imagery makes clear—are the subtext of his art. His negativity deeply informs it, giving it the strength to survive in the concentration camp that the artworld came (unconsciously) to seem to him, even as it ironically indicates that he belongs to it, for his art was as cutting-edge avant-garde, and with that as negative in its import, as the celebrity avant-garde art—Abstract Expressionism—that was all the rage at the time. And the best of it was as inwardly conflicted and outwardly fragmented—morbidly destructive–as was Lurie’s art at its most extreme.

But Lurie was a Jew in conflict with Nazis wherever he found them—everywhere in the world, it seems, not just the artworld—and as determined to exterminate them as they threatened to exterminate the Jews, exterminate them as though they were vermin not the Jews, vermin who infested and ran the concentration camp that the world seemed to Lurie to be. But my point is that negation, with its implicit wish to exterminate entirely—as Rauschenberg did when he erased a de Kooning drawing (1953)—has been “aesthetically” basic to avant-gardism at least since Picasso’s negation, not to say violation, of the female figure in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907. They menace him, and he takes his revenge on them by disfiguring them–denaturalizing and dehumanizing their bodies and suggesting that they are soulless antagonists, not to say primitive robots.

The negative identity is permanently at odds with the world, and negates it every chance it gets. It becomes a mode of “catastrophizing,” as the cognitive psychologist Aaron Beck calls it. It is an identity made all the more negative, as it was in Lurie’s case, when it has been conceived under duress: the duress of the Holocaust—an actual not a fantasied catastrophe–which left its indelible traumatic mark on Lurie. I will argue that his art was his way of coming to terms with the Holocaust and its unavoidably traumatizing effect on him. A trauma involves a break in the continuity of existence, as Winnicott said, and the concentration camp was a break in the continuity of Lurie’s existence, as the Holocaust was a break in the continuity of Jewish existence. It could not help but make Lurie conscious of his Jewishness. Overstimulation is another cause of trauma, as Freud said, and many of Lurie’s works—particularly the “over-all” works, saturated to the bursting point—have an overstimulated look, and, one might say, are overstimulating in themselves, and as such emotionally and perceptually overwhelming.

Lurie’s art was his way of working through or metabolizing his Holocaust-induced trauma, indeed, digesting and excreting it in an endless gesture of expulsion (responsible for the provocative scatological character of much of his art). To use Wilfred Bion’s notion, Lurie could never entirely purge himself of let alone contain his feelings about the Holocaust nor rid himself of the sensations his experience of it aroused in him—its “sensational” effect on him and the “sensational” memories it left in its wake. What Bion calls the breast-container, that which could contain the raw feelings and sensations his near-death experience aroused, allowing him to refine and master them by linking them together into thoughts, and thus comprehend his negative experience of life by turning it into something positive—something that transcended it even as it acknowledged it—was taken away from him–destroyed when his mother and sisters were destroyed.(3) His father survived, but his father was not a loving woman.

Nonetheless, however deprived of them, Lurie sometimes made refined, melancholy images of women, seemingly haunting memories of them—black and white as though still negative, yet poignantly tender—which served as the antidote to the poisonous pin-ups that pursued him with seductive fantasies generated by his frustrated desire. He made both kinds of images in the fifties and sixties, approaching his subject from distinct angles. He tied himself to his art the way Odysseus tied himself to the mast of his ship in order to survive the fatal singing of the sirens, even as it drove him mad with desire, which sometimes he mistook for love. But Lurie also took out his rage on them, injuring them as he was injured in the concentration camp, damaging them as he was emotionally damaged, dismembering them as he felt emotionally damaged, fragmenting them as he felt fragmented. Lurie’s Dismembered Women have a perverse affinity with Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon, not only because they are also fragmented, and he is also at odds with them—not to say conflicted about them and his own irrepressible desire for them, more broadly raw passion—but because they also prostitute their bodies. Their bodies could be used and abused—treated barbarically—just as his was in the concentration camp, suggesting that, bizarrely, he identifies with them. Did he also have to prostitute himself to survive in the concentration camp? Or at least submit to the will and authority of others, to obey their every command, to be completely controlled by them, to prostrate himself before them, which is a kind of prostitution of selfhood.

It seems clear that Lurie’s Dismembered Women have social as well as personal import: it is society that reduces women to sex objects, degrading and dehumanizing them, just as the Jews were degraded and dehumanized in the concentration camps. Women’s bodies are the sites of Nazi atrocities, like the bodies of Jews; Lurie paradoxically identifies with women for they too are social victims. It is worth noting, as Sandor Gilman points out, that, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Jews were regarded as “feminized males,” and as such as inferior and defective as women, and like them “at risk for hysteria…a uniquely feminine nervous disease.” Hitler accepted this idea, and “linked Jews with prostitutes and the spread of infection,” as Gilman notes, which is why they had to be wiped out, a medical necessity that was also a “social cure.”(4)

The body is crucial for Lurie, for in the concentration camp its existence was always at risk. It would be hard to keep body and soul together when there was no body. What is noteworthy about the female bodies in Lurie’s imagery is their healthy fullness—the ripeness of their breasts, their ample hips and thighs, their physical joie de vivre for all their pornographic character—which must have been a welcome “visceral vision” to the undernourished, perhaps emaciated, certainly thin, probably sickly body in which Lurie undoubtedly lived in the concentration camp. The pin-ups were not exactly mothers and sisters—and yet he destroyed the bodies of many of them in his art the way the Nazis destroyed their actual bodies, as though compulsively repeating the traumatic effect of their loss–but they were emotionally reassuring and soothing, however much they symbolized Lurie’s adolescent sexual frustration and lust. There’s no doubt that that Lurie’s pin-up is also a pop-porno version of the archetypal Frau Welt, as the psychoanalyst Wolfgang Lederer calls her in his account of man’s fear of woman, but she’s also an all-American version of Venus, if without the hand modestly shielding her loins in classical representations of her beautiful body.

I suggest that it was not only their sexual exhibitionism that mattered to Lurie, but their shamelessness–the fact that they were not ashamed of their bodies, as he must have been of the body he was reduced to in the concentration camp—and, perhaps above all, the bold confidence with which they displayed themselves. (Picasso’s Demoiselles have a similar effrontery and forthrightness.) They felt there was nothing humiliating in being naked. Lurie was in effect stripped emotionally and maybe literally naked and humiliated every day in the concentration camp. They were not defeated by life in a man’s world, just as Lurie was not defeated by life in the concentration camp. Dehumanized into sex objects by men, and with that de-subjectifying sexuality by over-objectifying it—“publicizing” it so that it no longer had any private, inner meaning—they used their sexuality to reduced men to animals, much the way Circe did, thus dehumanizing them in turn. They got their revenge: they were no longer subhuman victims of men, but men were subhuman victims of them. It was a perfectly symmetrical dystopia—a balance of nihilisms. They used their sexuality to survive in an alien world in which they were treated like objects with no inner life, and as such with no individuality let alone identity—they were in effect non-persons–just as Lurie used his sexual fantasies to confirm that he had an inner life, and thus was not the non-person the Nazis thought he, and every Jew, was. No failure of nerve in them, and in Lurie’s daring use of them in his art. It is clear that his art is a major achievement in the face of adversity, and stands on its own as a major contribution to the broad tradition of Expressionism, all the more so because his melancholy women have an affinity with those of Käthe Kollwitz and his vehement handling with that of Wilhelm de Kooning.

Growing up in a concentration camp, one cannot help feel traumatized by life, and develop a certain horror of it—the horror of life, as Baudelaire called it, that was the flip side of the romantic fascination with it—and Lurie is a romantic despite the painful realism of some of his imagery. However horrible, Lurie clung to life, and even had, as Irving Stone said Van Gogh did, a “lust for life.” But it was a lust informed by an impulsive destructiveness that uncannily suggests the chanciness of life in a concentration camp, and, ironically, what the psychoanalyst Anna Freud famously described as identification with the aggressor, suggesting the dialectic of Nazi sadism and Jewish trauma—indeed, the trauma of being an alien and alienated Jew in a Christian society, and especially in rabidly anti-Semitic Nazi society—that informs Lurie’s art. On one level Lurie’s work shows the so-called Stockholm syndrome in action—the persecuted individual takes on the traits of the persecuting society in order to survive in it—while on another level it shows the opportunity for independent thinking (and art making) the Jew has by reason of being an outsider.

It is no accident, as the art critic Harold Rosenberg observed, that the great majority of innovative American artists in the postwar period were Jews. As Max Horkheimer points out, because the Jew by definition can never fit into Christian society, however hard he tries to assimilate and conform, he is by definition a nonconformist, and has the opportunity of becoming a creative nonconformist—a nonconformist who can transform society by introducing unexpected ideas and new possibilities into it. In a sense, the Jew is destined to be avant-garde whether he wants to be or not. Perhaps Barnett Newman was the most forthrightly Jewish avant-garde American artist working at the same time as Lurie. Newman designed a synagogue and one of his major abstract paintings alludes to Abraham, 1949, the patriarchal founder of Judaism. He led the way beyond Abstract Expressionism with his innovative “zip” paintings. Newman’s abstract sublime paintings, to use the art historian Robert Rosenblum’s famous term, have been understood as quintessentially Jewish in their iconoclasm. Lurie is one of these Jewish innovators and creative non-conformists, but his Jewish art negates the sublime—just as Newman thought the sublime negated the beautiful—and with that art’s “higher purpose.” Many Jews felt that the Holocaust indicated that God had abandoned the Jews, and they abandoned God in response: holiness has fled the world, leaving only the profane—profane human beings, which is why Lurie never abandoned the figure. Lurie’s art deals in profanities—the profaneness of it all. He curses it all, as his Curse Paintings suggest. There is nothing “high” about art, for there is nothing up high. Art is forced to get low down and dirty because the world is lowdown and dirty.

Nietzsche famously declared “God is dead,” and with him morality. Human beings can mistreat each other without repenting. The Holocaust and pornography prove the point. Newman couldn’t accept the truth of Nietzsche’s insight, but Lurie’s art, with its obsessive insistence on pornography and the Holocaust—both horrors for Lurie, which is why sometimes pornographic pin-ups and Nazi insignia appear in the same picture, each reinforcing the monstrous meaning of the other–shows its accuracy. Lurie is a realist, and seemingly an “immoralist.” Newman’s idealism seems naïve from his perspective—the perspective of the suffering that is the Holocaust and woman’s. But like all moralists—like an Old Testament prophet—Lurie implicitly deplores the lack of morality, cursing the Hitlers who rule the world—the lifeworld in which they let pornography flourish, an opium for the male masses; the artworld in which they let Pop Art flourish, mocking creative art by its dependence on ready-made photographs from mass culture (as mechanically made and reproducible as pornographic photographs)– with their immorality. To me, the collages in which Lurie cuts up pornographic photographs of the depersonalized female body, using parts of it in a personal fantasy, is as much an attack on photography and the mass media used to distribute pornography as it is on the mistreatment of women implicit in presenting them as purely sexual objects and as such non-persons.

Lurie began his career as a sort of surrealist expressionist painter, often painting distorted—sometimes grotesquely distorted—figures, as several untitled works from 1948 show. In the fifties he made a number of abstract expressionist works, but he never abandoned the figure. His collages often have the same eruptive-disruptive painterliness—subtle as well as powerful–as they do. The black and white ones have a secure place in the history of Abstract Expressionism. Lurie often alters photograph, sometimes by obliterating the faces with flamboyantly painterly brushwork. The female face is often obliterated in the single image collage works of the early sixties, suggesting the eradication of the person, or personality, in pornography. There is a solemn integrity to all his works, though, even at their most dramatically intense. The No, 1963—clearly a signature painting—is diagonally divided into lower light and upper dark parts, with the stand-alone word “NO,” in capital letters (as though a foil to the word “GOD,” suggesting a big “NO” to a big “GOD,” that is, “No God”). The orange “NO” is largely in the dark section—a sort of apocalyptic handwriting on a dirty wall, as it were.

The painting is an abstract self-portrait: Lurie is divided against himself, the dark part charged with violently conflicting gestures, the light part a jerry-built pile of planar fragments. But however irreconcilable the parts, they hold together, suggesting that however tragically dramatic Lurie’s work might be, it has a paradoxical unity of purpose. Lurie remained true to himself, and to the concentration camp experience that shaped his adolescence, suggesting that his art testifies to his distorted emotional development. But it is also an accurate vision of a society stuck in adolescence, as its fascination with pornography suggests. Hitler was also peculiarly adolescent in his authoritarian attitude. He had the typical adolescent’s sense of superiority to and intolerance of the beliefs and ideas of anyone else, a delusion of grandeur correlate with contempt for the less grand, giving him the license to murder them without regret. Lurie’s art offers the insight into the Nazi attitude that political analysis of it lacks.

About Donald Kuspit(link is external)

Notes

(1)Introduction to Curse Works, 1972-73. Boris Lurie and Seymour Krim, NO!Art (Berlin and Cologne: Edition Hundertmark, 1988), 94

(2)Erik H. Erikson, Identity and the Life Cycle (New York and London: Norton, 1980), 129

(3)There is “persistent evacuation of need, pain, or hatred into the object, and then identification of the object with such projection,” which “leads to the creation of a bad and fragmented object,” the psychoanalyst Hanna Segal writes in Dream, Phantasy and Art (London and New York: Tavistock and Routledge, 1991), 50. In his art Lurie in effect evacuates the need, pain, and hatred he felt in the concentration camp, projecting into the Nazis who ran the camp, turning them into the bad and fragmented object he unconsciously (and consciously) felt he was. As Segal says, the object is reintrojected, “resulting in an increase in fragmentation of the self.” But “a good experience can modify the perception of the object and the self.” According to Bion, the good experience is afforded by the mother’s breast, eventually any woman’s good breast—including the good breasts of pornographic pin-ups. What Bion calls a “container-breast”—he speaks of the “sojourn in the good breast”—affords a good experience. “The action of the container”—emblematic of the mother’s sensitivity, her love and care, her responsive “reverie” as it has been called, modifies experience of the self and object for better, integrating both into whole beings. This is what we see in Lurie’s “reverential” portrayal of women in a number of works, in contrast to the fragmented female objects–the disintegration of female bodies to what psychoanalysts call part objects, forming an incomplete not to say incoherent whole—in other works. I suggest that the isolated, emphatically exhibited breasts—the primary female part object, as it were—evident in many of Lurie’s works are emblematic of the mother’s ideally good breast. Lurie lost his mother’s and sister’s breasts to the Holocaust, which is why he never forgave God the Father for letting it happen—God had in effect become Hitler–and never forgot it, and never stopped idealizing and destroying women, often in the same artistic breath.

Lurie was always in search of the permanently good breast however bad he knew some breasts—pornographically exaggerated as though to deny their emptiness—temporarily were. It is worth noting that Lurie did not find the artworld particularly nourishing—it was a deceptive cornucopia, like the pornographicized breast. Abstract Expressionism was a facilitating artistic environment for Lurie, but Pop Art turned the art world into a pornographic place, a sort of brothel in which star-struck artists marketed themselves like prostitutes. For Lurie, there was seductive populist pornography, and there was repulsive arty pornography.

Spasm

Stanley Fisher (1959)
Published in: Lurie, Boris; Krim, Seymour: NO!Art, Cologne 1988

Art in the Fallout Shelter: Art should be temporary. No substance beyond the rubbish of a bomb blast and beauty parlor. It must be hideous like a body crushed in aluminium. This in­human condition must be seen from any makeshift morgue where human flesh consuming helicopters are now stored. These helicopters, created as an instrument of war, have made wars unnecessary. There is no longer any human flesh. It is now warhead against warhead, and torture machines that paint. They paint on the phallus of the helicopter, and the shorn teeth, gasoline stumps and a strange dentifrice or fuel called limp. I am the last artist. I was fortunate. I have necrophilic cravings. Although I am decapitated. I still find sexual organs in which to scavenge. The helicopters find me disgusting.

Demented Corpse: A terrible odor of eyesight rose from the horizon of heavy sedation. I was running from huddled asphyxiation that shed rivulets of bloodstained garments. Two or it might have been twin shrieks pinned me to a crucifixion of moist bodies. Suddenly everywhere there were sputtering, gut­tering demented corpses who were like six-feet-tall white of eggs, or the albu­men of dirty eyes, burning crazily. One man, his clothing ripped into banners of black kerosene, exposed himself, and then crashed into the hood of a car, his flesh turning into shrapnel of hard leather. Nearby a rabid shadow, dazed from over-death, his head sheared but his blood white from shock, lurched in­to my arms, now frozen like lard under his reeking touch. I ran shrieking into the sea like a dark hallway, howling like a dog through my knee.

Chain Gang: Moonlight through my bandages, I ran, mercurochrorne steaming from my fingers to the sheaths of skid rows on fire, into bedrooms of bones crushed like orangeade, to the shy sunflower of her stomach, squashed now like pome­granates, only half alive, to quell through her, my sheer and incandescent, mangled and bleeding rage.

Paid Flame: A rouge brighter than lips. A warmth of crushing those who are your own, buried above each other, limbs and one had been hearts, and cruel black kerosene inside your ligaments, and fires inside your bones. The living, stumbling through piles of shrieks and weird ferris wheel of bodies. The bomb is in our beds, seeking refuge from its foulness. It is inscrutable, unfeeling, hard, aloof, contemptuous, and jealous. It is waiting inside its strange pill box of prurience, for a chance to engulf, to disseminate its death. And those who are as cold as the bomb, and as in­sane, plead for its egress. The living are its victims, your breath and living marrow and those desiring you, are food for its harsh and blackening kerosene brighter a hundred times than paid flame. A child is not an eggshell. A slut of bullet proof dreams….

Human Debris: There were white bodies that smelled of tar paper. One had his mouth ripped from his shoulder where it had smoldered like an ember. As he twitched, the sky was bleeding surgically. There was also a child, its body peeling a black enamel, and three hands of its parents stuck together like hot candles in its face. I saw her in a group hud­dled together like a rank nest of moist twigs. In the center there was a volcan­ic cry and an occasional larval scream. I had dragged myself with some impro­vised crutches into the aid room. The walls were scarred with gold teeth, zippers and hungry flies. A gold tooth and ivory button were imbedded in my painful stump. Zombie-like crowds began to howl for the sun which had dis­appeared in the human debris. They stumbled in, over the graves of almost flesh and been blood. There was no water, and their flesh fell from their band­ages. I lunged blindly. My hunger was allayed by this strange and tasteless sandwich.

Stained: Something happened to my nose. It had been there, and now it was gone. Now, only a hole. And still I was shaving. The mirror shriveled and collapsed, like a centipede into the wash basin. I was in a rag­ing consume of color, my body black against the light, except for parts of me that were gone. I tried to touch myself, but a smoking glove on the floor was all that was left of my crouching hand. I laughed and sat on the toilet seat. It was searing my hot flesh with an icy brand. I heard the zombies in the court­yard, dying, dreamy with perspiration and blood. It was through jagged win­dows that I walked to meet them, more glass than flesh, over chains of stained heads and others screaming from their eyes.

Spasm: The sun drifted into the hardware store. It opened up cans of kerosene, cans of lubrication, sand­stone and melting waterproof oils; stirred ingredients like smoke slithered into dark corners, exploding with an ethereal cry of bolts becoming cross-eyed and screws becoming popcorn. The plate glass window quivered and sizzled and coughed, wracked by unbelievable coats of white light. There were signs that chewed themselves and flash bulbs that melted over the cash register. Coins fell into heaps, sweating down the counter under flashes of molten chrome. The walls, dying of a fever, leaped from their death spasm and retched odd fluids on the floor. The store collapsed and sped towards the sewer, in a pasty conglom­erate of boiling corpses and billboards. I walked past the scene trying to hold myself into what was now a shroud of flesh. The buildings toppled in slow mo­tion over screams like candles burning in the debris. Flames began to trickle along a carpet of bodies that were petrifying and twisting hand over hand in a grisly wedding ceremony of charred skin. I had one thought…water…for my brain was stuck to my skull like desiccated paper and my mouth refused to open, except for a churning sound that dripped as from an empty faucet. Some­thing terrible clawed my eyes, and shattered my lungs. The entire city fell from its body like a dried body from an amputated limb, and the reeking lungs and bowels and heads, ran towards the river, headed towards the boiling cobra of red sweat that was stained by crotches of children, headed for the final eman­cipation from their chewed and swollen bodies, for a final emasculation, for their death. I joined them…screaming all the time.

Vulgar Show Statement

Stanley Fisher (1960)
Published in: Lurie, Boris; Krim, Seymour: NO!Art, Cologne 1988

This one statement by the MARCH GROUP among a thousand countless uncalled for unfounded statements that it makes on subjects like art it knows nothing about.

MOTION SICKNESS.

Art has ended. The world and being collapsed. Who are you? In this void, invisibility is seminal. Drink emptiness. Drink brinks. Swill on fathoms. Who are we? The earth is a line drive single to the slaughterhouse. How that spinal column of A-bombs sprawled among letter boxes and limbs delights the indoor eye, swindles passports into paradise. Vice. Vulgar? This is the beginning of the new death rattle in overt covert pervert keys. Do you expect marriage to be marriage, carriage to be carriage? Think invisibility. Drink rotations. Lengthen skyward. Art has reached escape velocity from the self, it plummets into bedrooms, boudoirs, brothels, banks, bedlams, and A-bombs. Where else. Into taxis, taxidermists, tabernacles, tarantulas, tubas and telephones.

At one time man confronted speeds of light, and people swilled above their house-tops, pyramids were formed and megaliths, Noah’s arcs. Now inertia is in flames. Can we confront again the speed of death in H-bomb blasts and retain our corpse of clay or must we watch the kaleidoscope of paint immured in motion sickness of that final day?

Doom Show Statement

Stanley Fisher (1961)
Published in: Lurie, Boris; Krim, Seymour: NO!Art, Cologne 1988

The time has come when outrage overwhelms the petty fears of habit and complacency. The stupid and humiliating powers-that-are have forced themselves (and everyone else) into a culdesac which makes the nazi crematoriums relatively innocuous. These leaders, stubborn in their stupidity and contempt, refuse to relinquish their powers and admit their criminal behavior, for consecrated criminal behavior has become a way of life, right down to the brutalization of children at home and in school, and in the denial of sexual freedom to those mature enough to cope with it…and the price of this ubiquitous social disease has been mental flatulence, spiritual hypocrisy and rage against the living and the loving. But now the consequences are far reaching and deadly…. You cannot suppress human life without destroying it completely, and the means have become available…the atom bomb and its accoutrements of horror! Have we faced the threats to our existence? Have we allowed ourselves to feel the brutalization of sensitivity and love which has suppressed the desire to shout out against such abominations, but which have offered stagnation and cancer as rewards of resignation? No: truths have not stirred the imagination of a people who wish to die, and who titillate themselves with the thrill of mutilitation and injury to others. Fallout shelters are being constructed, survival kits prepared, people numbed to violation of their right to be, and their right to eccentricity. The fallout shelters are the ovens in which our self-cremations will become finalized, a death without meaning, a death without dignity, a lonely death, a death in a sense ‘deserved.’ And where are the artists who are on the barricades of life and culture? Why haven’t they risen from their sleep to face the imminent threat to their freedoms, essential above all to the arts and dreams? They too have become tools of Mad. Money Ave. and paint the gruel of an idiotic world which cannot face the powerful emotions of existence, or the hazards of life. The March Gallery is a focus for those who want to strike out against the hallowed sickness of a world preparing to die, and a place offering encouragement to the immobilized artist of the world who want to say something with a cry of passion. This show, called Doom, is a call to those who want to survive. It is Art for Survival.

Introduction: Italian Shows

Thomas B. Hess (1962)
Published in: Lurie, Boris; Krim, Seymour: NO!Art, Cologne 1988

Sam Goodman and Boris Lurie are true Social Realists. Deeply involved with political and social issues, they have decided to work as citizen-artists, to become Responsible, to move their studios—their art, their lives, their references—into the idea-logical arena. They turn the aesthetic inside-out to discover its ethical viscera, ligaments, heart, dung. Lurie with his grimed up pinup nudes (the erotics of the underprivileged), Goodman tinkering with mashed celluloid babies, spell out a choking rhetoric that is concerned with where we are going. Like all artists they use the tools of art, but unlike the traditionally Left Social-Realists, they do not sneak Cold-War messages into smooth aspics of Style. Where a Guttuso or a Segueros or a Lorjou or a Refregier paint with accepted academic table-manners in order to make respectable some ideological anecdote, Goodman and Lurie have seized upon the latest idioms of New York School Action Painting. But where Rauschenberg, Kaprow or Oldenburg use the lace of garbage in formal, poetic ways, these two painters reject all transpositions and metamorphoses. They comment on the disgrace of society with the refugee material of society itself—fugitive materials for fugitives from our great disorders—our peripheral obscenities, our garbage, our repulsive factory-made waste matter. In a poor country, you cannot find a chicken bone on the streets. Goodman and Lurie have decreed whole scatological Versailles from the “built-in-obsolescences” of American “affluent society” (n.b., these moralists could scavenge as profitably in London, Paris, Milan, Munich, Leningrad). All modern art is Protest, in one way or another. Usually it is the protest of silence, negation, Satan’s cry—non serviam. Sometimes it is directly implied in difficulties of image or in savagery of gesture. Goodman and Lurie do not imply; they protest directly. They break up the relatively polite conversations in the parlour car by making a blind jump at the Emergency Stop cord. With their art, with the vast human accumulations of art history and aesthetic thought, they have found ways to shout—to blurt the visual truth. The irony of art, of course, always intervenes. If Goodman and Lurie were not fine painters, their blurts would be gibbers. And because they are artists they have bumped into beauty even where they are most horrified. Art always sneaks back to the Studio—even when the artist has gotten rid of its walls and doors and has moved out into the street. Here Venus arises from a sea of shit. In this ultimate twist of fatality (no wonder they named their exhibition in New York “Doom”) lies their ultimate metaphor. The shriek of doom also is a gay, wild testimonial to the Resurrection.

About Thomas B. Hess

YES & NO: thoughts to the issues of the past

Lil Picard (1970)
Published in: Lurie, Boris; Krim, Seymour: NO!Art, Cologne 1988

Thinking about DOOM!art, SHIT!art, NO!Art and some other things which happened in the late fifties and beginning sixties on Tenth Street in the March Gallery and at the Gertrude Stein Gallery, my feelings and emotions are ambivalent. I have “YES” and “NO” thoughts about this particular art and many other ugly smelly things. Questioning myself after so many years about this particular specific time and the happenings on Tenth Street and later uptown at Gertrude Stein, I will use the form of self interrogation.

NO, LIL: Don’t tell me today that “NO!Art” is better than “Flower Art” or “Nude Art,” or whatever art might be called, Erotic or Non-Erotic art, Pop, Minimal or Conceptual, and more relevant to the issues of our time, and could save the world from sick democracy and global destruction.

NO, LIL: I know you want to revive Infories of the historical past, “Tenth Street,” the DOOM!Show, the NO!Art show, the first Girlie-pictures exhibited in the March Gallery, the fragmented collages by Boris Lurie and the dirty dusty gruesome sculptures by Sam Goodman. In 1959 you fought with your friendly enemies in the art world who didn’t like the SHIT!art, DOOM!art, NO!Art at all! That was the time when Martha Jackson had invited the pre-pop artists for a show called “New Media-New Forms,” which was advertised as a new art expression.

NO, LIL: You seem to have forgotten that at the time of blooming Tenth Street art events the shows of stark realism at the March Gallery impressed you very much! I remember very well that you wrote an article for Germany and that you thought and wrote that this particular art form used by Lurie and Goodman reminded you of the John Heartfield and George Grosz political manifestations of art in Germany after the first World War.

YES, LIL: Somehow today this kind of political-realistic—I hate the word, but I must say it-propaganda art—has relevance, and it might be that when the art history of the fifties and sixties will be written and evaluated in the relation to political and historical events, this specific political protest art, post-World War II protest art, could be the most significant expression of our so-called sick times.

NO, LIL: I think you lie to yourself, you are trying to convince yourself that Boris Lurie and Sam Goodman, judged historically today, are a post-World War II edition of an European, especially German, art trend of post-World War I. I don’t think one can judge the March Tenth Street art that way. I think, retrospectively judged, the ideas of these artists were a rebellion, but not so much an “artistic” rebellion as a personal and political one. Because at that time Tenth Street started to get very sick, boring, and showed all the signs of an artistic malnutrition. Artists got tired of not selling and tried to become successes in the uptown galleries. They got tired of the dirty, junky, typical Tenth Street “Schmear,” they cleaned up their work and entered Madison Avenue and 57th Street.

YES, LIL: I remember that, and I remember also that on the other hand, with your European experiences you liked in some nostalgic rebellious way the dirty, girlie-collages by Boris (I can’t help to compare them to George Grosz) and the even messier sculptures by Sam, especially the one of atomized soldiers fighting on a chessboard of war. From this type of art emanated some of the strength of Berlin’s art in the twenties. The old “Sturm-Gallery” spirit: Otto Dix, German Expressionism, Bert Brecht, political cabaret, Kurt Schwitters, collages, collages, collages, Americanised, bigger but not much better. Somehow it seemed to you, if you are honest, like the pre-Hitler political cabarets and like the montages used as scenic designs as cabaret backgrounds, so popular in these days and all inspired by Hannah Hoech, John Heartfield and Kurt Schwitters. The Goodman-Lurie horror and doom shows forty years later in New York seemed to me at that time, and I mean 1959-1960-1962, a reflection of post Second World War despair.

NO, LIL: At that time you were very much intrigued by the young New York artists like Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Oldenburg, who had added something beyond the Schwitters-Heartfield-Hoech syndrome. In a time when Abstract Expressionism started to become academic those three pre-Pop artists excited you and influenced you in your own work.

YES, LIL: Now you lie again, you mix it all up. You thought the March Gallery dirty as it was, with the stone stairway going down to the basement and the bums lying around, the whole Tenth Street Slum art district very New York and very uncomfortable!

YES, LIL: Dirt is uncomfortable in life and in art and that’s the reason you liked, if you are honest enough to admit it, clean Campbell soup cans, clean Marilyn Monroes, clean Brillo boxes, that Mr. Clean Warhol, when he appeared on the dirty Doom-No & Protest-Sky.

YES, LIL: I know you tried to convince yourself all the time that the cleaned-up “protest” is the better one than the rough and dirty form, because you want to escape the reality of dirty walls, dirty studio floors, dirty hallways, cockroaches, Bowery bums, the bloody mess of humans lying like shit on city streets and at the entrances of artists ‘studios and the horrible images of war massacres and war-dead that bombard your visual senses in color every day on T.V., from color pages in magazines, and in movies.

NO, LIL: You must stop your self-argumentation. It seems that under the impact of our present human situation in the year 1969-1970, you are becoming a schizo. You act schizoid trying to defend one art form against another and in reality you are looking for nothing else than a new true form of visualisation in art, relevant to the revolutionary situation of the world. You are torn between a purely “aesthetic” approach and a “literary” one. You can’t make a decision. It’s a kind of love-hate involvement. A Ying-Yang good-evil, hell and heaven struggle….

YES, LIL: I definitely come to a statement. “The March Gallery-form-of-Art of the beginning of the sixties could be seen as the precursor of the Underground Movement.”…

Introduction to the NO-sculptures show

Thomas B. Hess
Exhibition presented by Boris Lurie at Gallery Gertrude Stein, New York, May 12—30, 1964

Sam Goodman and Boris Lurie are true Social Realists.

Deeply involved with political and social issues, they have decided to work as citizen-artists to become Responsible, to move their studios—their art, their lives, their references—into the ideological arena. They turn the esthetic inside-out to discover its ethical viscera, ligaments, heart, dung.

Lurie with his grimed up Pin-up nudes (the erotics of the underprivileged), Goodman tinkering with mashed celluloid babies, spell out a choking rhetoric that is concerned with where we are going.

Like all artists they use the tools of art, but unlike the traditionally Left Social-Realists, they do not sneak Cold-War messages into smooth aspics of style of Style. Where a Guttuso or a Siqueiros or a Lorjou or a Refregier paint with accepted academic table-manners in order to make respectable some ideological anecdote, Goodman and Lurie have seized upon the latest idioms of New York School Action Painting. But where Rauschenberg, Kaprow or Oldenburg use the lace of garbage in formal, poetic ways, these two painters reject all transpositions and metamorphoses. They comment on the disgrace of society with the refugee material of society itself—fugitive materials for fugitives from our great disorders—our peripheral obscenities, our garbage, our repulsive factory-made waste-matter.

In a poor country, you cannot find chicken bone on the streets. Goodman and Lurie have decreed whole scatological Versailles from the ‘built-in-obsolescences’ of American ‘affluent society’ (n.b., these moralists could scavenge as profitably in London, Paris, Milan, Munich, Leningrad).

All modern art is Protest, in one way or another. Usually it is the protest of silence, negation, Satans cry—non serviam. Sometimes it is directly implied in difficulties of image or in savagery of gesture.

Goodman and Lurie do not imply; they protest directly. They brake up the relatively polite conversations in the parlor car by making a blind jump at the EMERGENCY STOP cord. With their art, with the vast human accumulations of art-history and esthetic thought, they have found ways to shout—to blurt the visual truth.

The irony of art, of course, always intervenes. If Goodman and Lurie were not fine painters, their blurts would be gibbers. And because they are artists they have bumped into beauty even where they are most horrified. Art always sneaks back to the studio—even when the artist has gotten rid of its walls and doors and has moved out into the street. Here Venus arises from a sea of shit.

In this ultimate twist of fatality (no wonder they named their exhibition in New York ‘Doom’) lies their ultimate metaphor. The shriek of doom also is a gay, wild testimonial to the Resurrection.

Involvement Show Statement

Stanley Fisher (1961)
Published in: Lurie, Boris; Krim, Seymour: NO!Art, Cologne 1988

Involvement hits below the belt. And at the private parts above, too. It deals a lethal blow to the ideology of dog eat dog. There is no escape here. Even your deodorants will sweat. No ivory tower of dribbling design or cocktail color.

You will never be the same, nor will you want to be after viewing this show which is galvanizing art into a modern crisis.

The new March Gallery is a citadel for the idealistic, and bastion for those who would like to make a last stand against the commercial depredation of uptown galleries. We stand on the threshold of a new art, and art committed to speak out, an art involved with issues. We are not afraid of confronting the Hiroshima Hells and Buchenwalds of a world in trouble. We offer no tranquilizers. We face the truth. But to become the truth is blasphemous, and we have become the truth.

Anti-art uses all the groping varicose brains of science fiction and the pin-up cheesecake of the calendar magazines and the gloss of Life and Times and the plush-slush comic strips and the byzantine Boweries of Lower Broadway and the balling Off-Broadway and Buchenwald and H-bombs bopping and the colored condoms of that detention-dimension, Hollywood, and its vomitorium of video.

Anti-art is the art in which men are blue, monsters are framed-up and beasts leap from stool pigeon penthouses of pink-mink. It is the art in which meeting the ground at 100000 miles an hour becomes glamorous and tires are made from the belly button. Mickey Mouse travels to Laos with Saint Dulles and is murdered by a snowball that has been blown from Tibet by a forty-five millimetre monk. He decides that Doom is more sporting in Los Angeles where plate windows make bad wings of blood on their victims. Mad Magazine undersells a brassiere factory and all chics in NYC wear shirts stuffed with Alfred E. Neuman and he tickles too like crazy. What a scene on subways, automate, laundromat, ladies room, powder room, blue room, and Hawaiian room! Marilyn Monroe is found with an ash tray filled with my shirt sleeves and I am accused of unsightly littering. They stretch my skin over a light bulb in Alcatreaz and the motes of murder shine in Shanghai when they press that switch. A menstrual flow against gravity stuns scientists. The March Gallery is lynched.

This is the stuff of which anti-art is made.

Art cannot be measured or defined any more than love. The depths of a kiss cannot be fathomed, nor can art. Both are inscrutable. Love, the most transitory of acts meets art, the most accidental of loves. Both are meaningful only insofar as the involvement is passion. And passion leads to what is unmastered in the beyond. In the death of all things is our world of uncommitted shallowness, the need for passion and involvement become a death and life struggle. And violence becomes the parody of futility. I believe in a new art of committed violence. I believe art should destroy all things before they become utilitarian symbols of useless longevity; before they become fuses to our own high-priced destruction. As most art galleries are padlocked behind their sinister commercial dreams, I search for this new art in the comic strip and the tabloid sheet. Here you see the catastrophe, the avalanche, the flood, the tidal hurricanes, the carnal holocausts and the inadvertent so actual that planes meet above Staten Island in hectic rendezvous with two boroughs, plowing snow with blood in one, and razing garnished steeples and serene funeral parlors in the other. Smoke terror flames crawling like schizophrenic lightening in beauty parlors and garages, into the starch of Chinese laundries, into the fuming wax of imitation begonias, into the detergents of dusky groceries. Here momentarily life is renewed and the fear of affirmation vanquished. This is the new art, the shock art, the anti-art that is preparing us for the H-bomb sodomy and the seasickness of a violent death.

Introduction to SAM GOODMAN ‘NO-sculptures’

Boris Lurie (1964)
Exhibition presented by Boris Lurie at Gallery Gertrude Stein, 24 East 81 Street, New York. May 12—May 30, 1964

Late one night recently, early in the morning in fact, I stopped over at Sam Goodman’s studio. I noticed he had been working on a sculpture which had been discarded in a corner of his studio. It came upon me at once that this was the sculpture that had to be done by someone at this particular time: expressed in artistic terms, it was the answer, in this spring of 1964 in this City of New York. This sculpture had to be done by Goodman only, nothing like it has ever been done before.

The artist, as if hopeless in the pursuit of a project so difficult, so full of explosive matter directed against its author himself, as well as the art-world around him, apparently had put the idea aside, in the realization of the hopelessness and dangers involved in its execution and presentation. I was blessed with an insight that permitted me to fathom the importance of that sculpture and to support and encourage the sculptor in the execution of his dangerous idea. I consider myself lucky indeed been given the opportunity played a minor part in this project.

I remember Goodman’s work before, from the beginning of the historic exhibitions at the rebellious March Gallery that had been the first rallying call for a truly new social art, from the wealth of which a subsequent generation of artists nourished themselves. From burnt babies, dolls of our childhood, of Auschwitz and Hiroshima, and dolls of the little Negro girls killed here in the USA, he had gone on to enrich our consciousness with an image of the useless and discarded people, mounted rags and discarded bundles. His Doom-Show constructions sat up a howl to exorcise nuclear holocaust, and his NO-sculptures now—an ultimate gesture of aggressive manly despair plunged into our consciousness with the exactitude of the matador in the final kill.

When I was imprisoned in a German concentration camp during the war, Jewish prisoners drowned a fellow Jew in the accumulated excrements of the latrine for collaboration with the enemy. The price of collaboration in art, too, is excremental suffocation.

In 1962, the only courageous art dealer in the world, Arturo Schwarz of Milan, Italy, exhibited selections of the Lurie-Goodman shows held at the old March Gallery on East Tenth Street in New York. The selections included work from the Vulgar, Involvement, and Doom Shows, executed since 1957. I was astonished and surprised when Schwarz jubilantly picked a Goodman construction that had the beginnings of his present NO-sculptures within it, to be placed in the show window of his gallery. I remember Arturo Schwarz being as happy as a child to have thought of this idea, to have asserted his courage and independence, to have disregarded the reactions of the citizenry passing by his shop window. With this one gesture he expressed so many things all at once, he reversed so many acts we would like not to have ever suppressed, out of politeness, or out of fear.

But such acts, such gestures are rare indeed here. Where the formulation of art is in the hands of worn-out disillusioned aesthete-intellectuals and speculator-collectors greedy to pounce upon any acceptable novelty providing there is enough ‘sophistication,’ titillation, chauvinism and a potential market for it, true art, invariably connected with true courage, has about as much of a chance as last year’s art vogue much attraction as last year’s ladies fashions. Instead of producing: courageous artists we produce ‘courageous’ aesthete-intellectuals who from the sanctuary of their news media or foundation-supported enclosures, are free to create new art movements or to harass and attack the independent artist, to destroy reputations in the perfect security of their sanctuary, and without any fear of being hit back or their secure positions being jeopardized.

The aesthete-intellectual has studied much art history, but he has learned very little. Nevertheless he feels he is in perfect command of the laws and regulations and varied ingredients that make up the quantity called art. His ear is finely attuned to the demands of the intellectual climate of the moment, and he is well aware of the economic implications that govern art-promoting and art-marketing. This knowledge and skill, the fruit of much study and a long personal presence in the art world is now put to use in the promulgation of a ‘new’ theory. Artists who might fit the theory are invited to join in the new grouping, others are persuaded to comply, and a search is instituted for innocent talent who somehow or other had managed to obtain information on the precise nature of the new trend. Our products are proudly paraded at the art world fair in Venice and at the World’s Fair in New York, where coca-cola-pop-art melts into and becomes identical with the design and commercial art around it. What contrast between collaborationist-pop art and the bloodied heads of the civil rights demonstrators who dare say no.

Goodman’s NO-sculptures could not have come to us at a better moment and in a better place, in New York, in 1964. It is the answer on a social, aesthetic, and on a psychological level. But over and above, it is a masterpiece of heroism without which no great achievement in art is possible. Heroism implies a willingness on part of the hero to expose himself to risks and dangers. Goodman’s NO-sculptures are an assertion against fear, an assertion of strength in the face of submission, of energy in the face of castration, an assertion of the individual, who refuses to bend. These phrases, when not followed by deeds, sound old and outworn, and therefore meaningless: but the Holy Deed, the Fearless Act redeems them and gives them life and truth.

On an aesthetic level (if we should wish at all to meet this pseudo-science on its own grounds) Goodman’s work opens to re-examination the whole complex of the Paris New Realists and its American chauvinistic derivation and bastardization called ‘pop-art.’ It is a demand to reopen inquiry on the falsification of today’s art history, written before and during the time the works described are being created a demand to expose the propaganda-machine that has come into being in this post abstract-expressionist period.

Psychologically, our spotless Puritanism, our taboos, and perhaps the roots of all painting and sculpture are opened up to questioning. On a social level, besides many points brought out previously in this introduction, I would like to point to the coloring of Goodman’s sculptures which range from ochres and browns to to metallic blacks and deep black. There are no lily-white No-sculptures in this show.

But, as we all know deep down, it is not by submission, coolness, remoteness, apathy and boredom that great art is created, no matter what the cynics might tell us. The secret ingredient of all art is what is most difficult to learn, it is courage.

Die Welt: Go to the Jewish Museum, dammit!

By Hans-Joachim Müller
Die Welt, 05.22.16
(Original article in German(link is external))

After the war, hardly anyone was so radical in his art as Boris Lurie. Born in Leningrad, survived Buchenwald, died in New York. Currently the Jewish Museum in Berlin is showing his lifework.

What hangs on the wall is really bad, coarse, rough, tattered. But it is so oddly fascinating that one can’t help looking at these unsettling images intently, sharing this sight with the few speechless visitors at the Jewish Museum in Berlin. Boris Lurie needed only one syllable to testify to his irrevocably disturbed relation to the world. “No!” Again and again: “No!” Like an echo to prevent the catastrophic century from being forgotten.

People who demand a discreet and flavorless polemic shouldn’t visit this show. When the artist superimposes a pin-up collage on the photo of corpses in the concentration camp, its affect is so rough and its form so brutal that it risks being too politically overdone to be called art or too radically aesthetic for a political statement.

The culture of the 20th century was a rush ahead in an act of refusal, the resolve of impertinence, and a test of how much one can bear. Nothing was more characteristic of that century’s art than the way it attacked conventions already long on the losing side. However, no one has raged in the remaining residue of this protected viewing space like Boris Lurie has. He painted pictures that resemble a murder scene after the removal of the corpse.

How do you live when you should be dead?

True, there are similar scenes in Chaim Soutine, R. B. Kitaj or Francis Bacon. But in cases of these artists, style mitigates everything, while here the rage seems to spark ever anew, spreading from picture to picture. The painter never gives himself a break, or distance, never lets his idiosyncrasies go. With restless killer instinct he uses blood red newspaper and magazine covers, draws a black swastika in the open wound of his canvas and writes: “A Jew, a Jew, a Jew Is Dead.”

We need to tell a bit about the artist, since he is not among stars of which one has at least heard before. He was born 1924 in Leningrad, the year that Stalin won the power struggle against Trotsky. The Jewish family moved to Riga, then Latvia was occupied by the Soviets, soon afterwards Hitler’s troops invaded and annihilated the Jewish population. In the forest of Rumbula, Boris, not yet 20 years old, had to watch as 28,000 people were killed. His grandmother, mother, sister, girlfriend. Together with his father he was imprisoned in several concentration camps until 1945 when American GIs liberated Buchenwald.

Boris Lurie has survived. But what kind of life is it when your formative experience was that you have no right to live? With his father, he immigrated to New York, became an artist. Because art is a promise of freedom, and there is nothing more seductive. Later he said that he had acquired the foundations of his artistic education in the concentration camps.

“No!,” time and again: “No!”

The work begins with an approach that is figurative, representational. Without the pressure of having to overcome the tradition of having to explain the picture from the very first step. Early cycles like “War Series” show an expressive realism of the concentration camp period. There is a sense of insufficiency of means in processing these impressions. It’s like dark shadows, illustrating a text that is still missing or absent. The chopped body parts of the “Dismembered Women” cycle are aggressive and devastating. The bent and swollen limbs look a bit like they’ve come from the Francis Bacon toolkit.

And then the city descends upon him. The American success culture that didn’t need much time to get over the shadows of the War. Life is taken easily, big money is the main concern, and the abstract expressionists are on the verge of taking over the leadership of the art world. Lurie practices in their gestural script, repaints, and, rather than just pouring paint, pastes up lewd photos, then, rather than just painting them over, pours color over the obscene images like red hot lava.

With a ferocity that seems neither emotionally, intellectually, or formally restrained, he mixes these pictorial cocktails out of KZ and consumer advertising, pornography and politics, leaving no doubt, with each brushstroke affirming that this mix is not really intended for human consumption. Art does not want to belong here. And to make it unambiguous, the painter, unchained since the early sixties, has kept on putting a big “NO” over his pictures, readable from the distance.

Swastika, hammer and sickle

With all the vehemently declared negation of Art in the exclamation “NO!Art Movement” – a school attracting like-minded people such as Sam Goodman, Stanley Fisher, and Gertrude Stein, who organized their exhibits at her New York Gallery – they hated the art of that time, abstract or pop, but no work is as merciless and abhorrent as that of Boris Lurie. He puts it all down, alienates friends, holding nothing back, always and everywhere suspecting the conspiratorial forces of fascism, capitalism, consumerism and imperialism.

So you stand in a room, look at the cleavers stuck in the stumps, and think no one else was so consistent in his fallenness. And if something is there to justify this obsessive art making, then it must be the metamorphosis of the witness to a prosecutor, who does everything he can to have nothing in common with the market and consumer needs, desperately rejecting the embrace of bourgeois 20th century art that always wants to appropriate the avant-garde, however contrarian it might be, to catch up with it again and keep it close to its heart.

A commendable project has begun in recent years to take care of the estate of the artist, who died in 2008, and to reconstruct his individual work phases. Yet, the disparity of the material is all the more conspicuous. Everything is torn. It is impossible to make it whole again. “The painterdom,” as Boris has said in his lost Yiddish language, “comes from a box of sweets, in which Stars of David have been melted with Hammers and Sickles under star-studded swastikas.”

“No compromises! The Art of Boris Lurie,” until July 31, Jewish Museum, Berlin

Boris Lurie: In the Footsteps of an Outsider

by Rudij Bergmann

Born in Riga 1924 into a Jewish bourgeois family, the artist and author Boris Lurie, together with his father, survived the concentration camps (KZ) Stutthof and Buchenwald. Starting August 27 the NS-Documentation Center of the City of Cologne will show the works of the eternal Outsider.

YEARNING FOR EUROPE

When I first saw Boris Lurie in the twilight of a hallway in Manhattan, I almost immediately recognized his yearning for Europe. It was in October 1996. The aim and reason for my trip was to make a film about Lurie, which resulted in a long friendship and the film that I showed recently in a remote place in Estremadura, almost precisely halfway between Madrid and Lisbon. In Museo Vostell in Malpartida de Cáceres, Spain. 

There, in cooperation with New York Boris Lurie Art Foundation, the first European show of No-Art artist after his death (2008) took place. It was a wise decision to have this site for the show. Surrounded by probably the world’s largest private Fluxus collection, on a permanent loan to the museum from the Italian Gino di Maggio, the Boris Lurie oeuvre had been buoyed up in the focus of the Art Discourse.         

VIOLENCE AS CONCEPT

Wolf Vostell had insistently drawn my attention to Lurie’s disturbing images: KZ-Prisoners waiting for their liberation. Ghostly beings between hope for life and final destruction. Ornamented with Pin-up-Girls in explicit positions. The beautiful and the naked, the gassed and the escaped became the main theme for Lurie, the survivor of a subcamp of Buchenwald. Balancing on the knife’s edge of voyeuristic lust and pure horror.   

POEMS EDITED IN STUTTGART

The point of departure for my film about Lurie’s Art was 1946, when Lurie, as it was predetermined by the Nazis, reached New York, his willy-nilly  adopted home. Everything turned out the way I had expected; through art life narrates as if it were life itself speaking. A film is about the Shoah survivor, and the Shoah, the Holocaust was all over the place. Entering his 66th Street atelier/apartment, one could realize Lurie had never mentally left the KZ. The same echoes in his wondrous texts, composed in his native “Baltic German.” His poetry, a tragic mix of laughter and howl, was put out in 2003 by Stuttgarter Eckhart-Holzboog publishing house. 

COUNTERWORLD TO POP

For Boris Lurie, born 1924 in Leningrad and grown up in Riga, visual Art was substantially his own experience. His work is political, it reaches far beyond the Shoah to America of the Vietnam war, the Caribbean crisis, the Cold War and positions itself as an assault on “good taste,” an attack on the rigged rules in politics, art and society. 

It was also the agenda of the No!Art movement, co-founded and essentially shaped by Lurie as a riposte to Pop-art. He was, so to speak, their Andy Warhol. Lurie as he formulates it in the film, sees Pop-art as a glorification of the American consumerism leaning towards chauvinism. He does not recognize social criticism in Pop-art.

Artistically and esthetically, Lurie, who after 1950 discovered collage for his own use, stands close to the roughness of Fluxus artists, whose life and work can be explored in Stuttgarter Staatsgalerie: including Jean-Jacques Lebel, a French artist with whom Lurie occasionally collaborated in New York. But 
most notable is Wolf Vostell: the most political of all the Fluxist who maintained a life-long friendship with Lurie, based on their common feelings about Shoah.     

SPIRITUAL NETWORK

How close this “Jewish” elective affinity was,  will be revealed at the film show on July 3rd 2014 in the Museum, first found by Vostell and his wife Mercedes as a private collection and now operated by Extremadura Province. In my film I juxtapose the Lurie film shot in New York in 1996 to the Vorstell’s works Schwarze Zimmer [Black Room] and ShoahSchwarze Zimmer was made in 1959. Commonplace things jammed together with the horrifying ones in one room. Searchlight, barbed wire, child toys. Pencil. Tattered clothing. Concrete. Everything unworthy of Art (at least at that time.) And the TV-set, the emblematic signature of Vorstell’s art. To see either image interferences—white noise like locusts’ buzzing—or the actual TV program of the respective location. As Vostell in this film states, when a documentary about Auschwitz is running on TV, then, there is Auschwitz also in Schwarze Zimmer.

The triptych Shoah

came out in 1997. The concrete arrow dominates the picture, it dashes relentlessly over the people painted in Acrylic underneath. Cubist-looking figuration in Vostell’s manner strongly remind the giant Estremadura stone blocks. The last major work of the artists who newly rediscovered himself as a painter, dedicated to the Jews of Spain banished in 1492 and the European Jews killed by Nazi Germany. 

The film has no text. Artist and filmmaker are in dialogue. It is about hard artistic set-out and the then commonly prevailed resentment of collectors, museums and the media taking a dim view of “torn paper and smashed tin”. The film was made on the occasion of the artists’ 65 anniversary. Obviously, the friends knew: Vostell was ill. A few months later he was dead.     

LURIE ON THE OFFENSIVE

The Schwarze Zimmer can bee seen currently as part of the exhibit Beuys Brock Vostell at the Art and Media Technology Center in Karlsruhe. The painting Shoah is now in Museum Sefardi, formerly a synagogue in Toledo, the first stop of my trip before I got to Museo Vostell. Many of rarely shown works of Lurie are there to be discovered, such as Three Women, 1955 reminding Goya’s sinister phantoms. Particularly striking are his collages, the grim masterpieces of the art of memory, which does not whine, does not gabble and doesn’t retreat into a safe esthetic realm. Lurie attacks: those who were in denial as well as the perpetrators and their accomplices, who claim they had been unaware. Unfortunately some works are missing. First of all the large scale oil/collage paintings such as Lumumba is Dead, where Lurie squares up with Cold War. There might have been reasons in terms of conservation. However the missing pieces are presented in the catalog.  

I also sorely miss the central work of Boris Lurie in this otherwise most praiseworthy exhibit: The Railroad Collage, sized 35×57 cm. One of those works, that time and again deeply affects survivors and their descendants. The one where a Pin-Up Lady pulls down her slip over her impressive rear: Lurie glued her image over the photo of wagon laden with corpses, as if she offers her body to the murdered. 

To reproach Boris Lurie, whose mother and sister were killed by the Nazis, for denigrating the ones killed in KZ is as much understandable as it is false. Lurie is perfectly conscious about the conflicting nature of his art. To that effect he says in film that he would love to paint impressionistically which he knew quite well. But there have been always a compulsion to come to grips with the past and the present. “For me personally,” said Lurie, “the Pin-Ups stand for mass graves, as it was in Riga, where most of the killed by firing squad were women.” The Lurie’s erotically charged creative output should be, first and foremost, recognized as an allegory of triumphant life over the mass murder and genocide of history. And also as the utterly Janus-faced victory of love and drive.       

What Lurie did not achieve, his pictures did: in the year of his 90th birthday they briefly went to Europe and before long found their way to their point of origin, Germany. In a modified format they reached their second station at the NS-Documentation Center of the City of Cologne. Undoubtedly a significant institution, well positioned in the network of museums attracting the public whose interests go far beyond art only. This kind of public, especially the young, is important. But it is still true, that the art, which transcends the occasion of its creation, deserves a place in a museum. That pertains to the art of Picasso as much as to that of Boris Lurie. Art is Art. Everything else is everything else.

www.museen-köln.de(link is external)

* “Art is Art…” is actually a quotation from Ad Reinhardt with no credit to him. Here, taken from the English original, rather than back-translated from the German (translator’s note)

Translated from German by Greg Kapelyan.

NO!show at Gertrude Stein Gallery

Seymour Krim (1963)

l was kindly asked to write this introduction to the NO!show for two oddly pertinent reasons: l am the editor of “The Beats,” an anthology of Beat Generation prose and poetry, and the editorial director of “Nugget” magazine. If you couple the outcries of Beat literature with the direct erotic charge of a magazine like “Nugget,” you have a unique marriage of elements which could not have been dreamed up before this specific, cockeyed period we’re living in. Both the writing and the pictures glory in sources of repressed life that couldn’t very well find their way into such publications äs “The New York Times,” the “New Yorker,” or even the “Partisan Review.” At its best, this exposure of flesh and frankness is too disturbing for the intellectually mink-lined operations named above and at its frankest it bitterly offends traditionalists who want expression which is subdued, selective and discreetly clothed.

Without forcing the question, l see an unmistakable connection between a magazine like “Nugget” and the present exhibition. Although our ambition and daring have not yet gone the lengths of artists like Boris Lurie and Sam Goodman, because we are a mass magazine and can only subvert hollow tradition and dullness by easy stages, both the magazine and this exhibition share a passion for contemporary imagery. We both are mediums for the release of the most vivid, racy and caustic sights and scenes which all but overwhelm the sensitive American eye. The painters in this show, from the shrill siren-warnings of Stanley Fisher to the obsessive phallic imagery of Yayoi Kusama, are however much more aggressive and individualistic than what we have so far visually permitted in “Nugget.” Even a sassy mass-publication like ours must bend an ear to the cash register in order to survive, and this means that we must be ever alert to entertaining as well as alarming. But the majority of the works in this exhibition are entertaining only as an after-thought l believe; their primary intention is to communicate, or more accurately, be a savage experience that owes little to that diplomatic finesse which all commercial art must cultivate. These artists are totally unbuckled to their vision, so to speak, letting escape all the smelly gases that cause constipation in so many other compartments of psychological and even artistic life.

This in itself is reason for genuine respect, l believe, even if you recoil or are angered by the calculated extremism of some of the work. Why? Because serious art in a rather cowardly mass society such as ours must constantly assert to the public that it is motivated by a different purpose than the decorative or simply artful work which is gobbled up by mass-media man without Indigestion. America today is no place for self-respecting beauty which doesn’t threaten complacency. We have too much sickness in every compromised area of our lives to need art that soothes. Marvellous French masters are not in tune with us right now. We need art that screams, roars, vomits, rages, goes mad, murders, rapes, commits every bloody and obscene act it can to express only a shred of the human emotions that lie prisoner beneath the sanitary tiles here in adman’s utopia.

Most of us, people as well as painters, live every 24 hours in the midst of constant and previously unimaginable bewilderment these days. We are dazed. One’s values, sense of purpose, psychic equilibrium, are zip-gunned from every side by the new barbarism that American culture has rained down upon us. No one who can feel is spared the absurdities, indignities—the sense of drowning in a stew of taxicabs, Coca-Cola machines and tight-jeaned asses—that the “material carnavalia” of our society has pyramided beyond laughter or tears. This is the life we know with our own eyes; but it is so incredible by previous Standards that we try to gloss experience with the formal consolations of another period. These artists are too much in love with the monstrosities of contemporary life to fake their vision: the bulk of the work in this show is an appropriately brutal effort to cope with a brutish environment.

Allan Kaprow’s piece is an exception to my eye: it is cool, calculated and effective in a controlled and delimited sense. He has classic taste, but the point of view is too cautious to be representative of what you will see. Esther Gilman’s broken Christ shows the disenchantment of a private religious experience, perhaps bitter disillusionment is the closer description, and it no doubt succeeds but on a comparatively gentle level of wan hope. Michelle Stuart’s sadomasochistic portraits and Yayoi Kusama’s orchard of penises2 seem closer to the precise point of paint and fantasy, all done within terms of the female sensibility—so different from my own that l am an insensitive translator of all three ladies’ language and advise you to react to their broken melodies with your own sensory equipment.

But with men like Lurie, Goodman, Fisher and Tyler, the work hits you like a rock hurled through a synagogue window. Smash!—and a 100 emotions follow in its wake, blasphemy, violence, hatred, release, fear, disgust, anger. After having suffered a critical brush-off in their early March Gallery exhibitions—the Vulgar, Involvement and Doom shows—this group of unfashionables have now made it shockingly clear that they’ve invented a slam-bam art of the ’60s which is going to turn a lot of people around. They use every handy aesthetic device (collage with mixed technique, overprints, what Boris Lurie calls a “simultaneity of attack”) that will torpedo the eye and rape your soul of its clichés. They are a band of rapists in a sense, impatient, unsparing, open-flied and ready for action—”hot” pop artists out for copulation rather than cool ones doing doodles before a mirror.

The garishness of their color, the posteresque eternality of emotion, the flashy, honky-tonk “Beat Coney Island” tone and lack of shading in the materials—all these are deliberate tabloid like devices to give you the real yummy taste of our squawking American nightmare. “A match skating in a urinal” was Hart Crane’s almost chaste Image of disgust 30 years ago; now it has multiplied into these bashed-in TV sets, girlie pinups next to concentrationcamp mass graves, in short the unedited film Strips of the contemporary id which usually end up in the mind’s waste-paper-basket. To be honest, l am at moments uncomfortable with the garment-center schlook and hysteria that squirts out from some of the work even though l understand its necessity. A good example of this is the Stanley Fisher piece which hangs above my fireplace, purchased from his “Help!” show. What is remarkable about it is that it actually brings Times Square and its hustling-chick, suicide-pill desperation into my house. l feel naked before it, it is such a trophy hunted down in the jungle of public life that it seems to be alive. l resent it because it is so raw, vulgar, smeared, screechy, hardly separate from the fevered streets that inspired it. And yet l love it because of its reality. Not being a painter, it seems to me extraordinary that the reality which l and thousands of my generation must cope with every day has been seized and thrown cursing into art.

Let us not kid each other. The life we are forced to live in New York and America today often seems like a bad pot-dream, paranoid and cruelly absurd beyond conventional description. Much of the work in this exhibition seems to me the closest approximation of this contemporary mad house, which is our existential lot, that l have seen. Some of it is as uneven as a rollercoaster and the artists vary from con-man to saint, often in the same package. But what a picky little matter compared to more urgent needs. The times have decreed the noise and insanity that rise from the streets and drop down from the sky, and as the times always do, they have inspired a group of artists to use this time’s own personality against itself. How right and necessary for us all!

NO!Art Show No 3, catalog, New York, July-October, 1998

BEST ART EXHIBIT/2014 by CHARLES KRAUSE REPORTING

 

BEST ART EXHIBIT/2014/Part II  
KZ-KAMPF-KUNST / Boris Lurie: NO!Art 

 

THERE WAS MUCH ABOUT BORIS LURIE’S LIFE THAT SEEMS TO HAVE BEEN MORE THAN COINCIDENTAL YET CANNOT BE FULLY EXPLAINED.  THAT HE AND HIS FATHER BOTH SURVIVED THREE AND A HALF YEARS OF INTERNMENT, FIRST IN THE RIGA GHETTO AND LATER IN CONCENTRATION CAMPS IN GERMANY,
WAS ITSELF A MIRACLE.  HOW HE BECAME AN ACCOMPLISHED ARTIST WITH SO LITTLE FORMAL TRAINING IS ALSO QUITE EXTRAORDINARY. AND WHAT WERE THE ODDS THAT VIRTUALLY ALL OF HIS ART, IMPORTANT ART MOTIVATED BY THE HOLOCAUST THAT FEW UNDERSTOOD OR WANTED TO SEE WHEN IT WAS CREATED, WOULD BE PRESERVED FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS TO STUDY AND DRAW LESSONS FROM? 
 

THERE MUST BE A REASON.
 

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There Must Be a Reason




 

 

WHEN BORIS LURIE DIED IN 2008 AT THE AGE OF 84, HE OWNED  ALMOST EVERY WORK OF ART HE HAD EVER CREATED—MORE THAN 2,500 PAINTINGS, COLLAGES, DRAWINGS, ASSEMBLAGES AND SCULPTURES. MUCH OF IT HAD BEEN STORED IN PLASTIC GARBAGE BAGS AND WAS IN POOR CONDITION.
BUT MIRACULOUSLY, VIRTUALLY THE ENTIRE BODY OF LURIE’S WORK, MOST OF IT NEVER EXHIBITED PUBLICLY DURING HIS LIFETIME, WAS SAVED AND IS NOW CAREFULLY STORED IN MID-TOWN MANHATTAN, A  TREASURE WAITING TO BE DISCOVERED BY ART HISTORIANS, HISTORIANS OF THE HOLOCAUST,
PSYCHOLOGISTS, ART COLLECTORS, 
MUSEUM CURATORS…
AND FUTURE GENERATIONS.

   

 

WHAT THEY’LL FIND WILL DEPEND ON
WHAT THEY’RE LOOKING FOR. 
BUT JUDGING BY LAST FALL’S
 RETROSPECTIVE OF LURIE’S WORK IN COLOGNE, THEY WON’T BE DISAPPOINTED. 

 

BORIS LURIE SURVIVED
THREE AND A HALF YEARS IN HITLER’S DEATH CAMPS, FROM OCTOBER, 1941—WHEN HE AND HIS FAMILY WERE DETAINED IN LATVIA—UNTIL APRIL, 1945, WHEN HE AND HIS FATHER WERE LIBERATED FROM BUCHENWALD. 

HIS MOTHER, GRANDMOTHER, SISTER AND FIRST LOVE HAD ALL BEEN KILLED. HE WAS JUST 21.

HISTORIANS AND PSYCHOLOGISTS OF THE HOLOCAUST WILL FIND IN THE LURIE ARCHIVE A TREASURE TROVE OF DRAWINGS AND PAINTINGS THAT CHART THE LIFELONG STRUGGLE OF A GIFTED ARTIST TRYING TO OVERCOME THE DEEP EMOTIONAL 

AND PSYCHOLOGICAL WOUNDS HE SUFFERED IN HIS YOUTH.

COLLECTORS AND CURATORS WILL FIND THE ENDLESSLY INVENTIVE WORK OF A MAN WHOSE NATURAL TALENT, RESTLESS ENERGY, FORMIDABLE INTELLIGENCE AND LIFE’S EXPERIENCE ALLOWED HIM TO CREATE EXCEPTIONAL WORKS OF ART.

THEY WILL ALSO DISCOVER HIS COMPULSION TO PREVENT ANOTHER HOLOCAUST RESULTED IN A SUITE OF 
EXTRAORDINARY ANTI-WAR PAINTINGS FROM THE LATE 50’S AND EARLY 60’S. CREATED IN RESPONSE TO LITTLE ROCK, PRESIDENT EISENHOWER’S WARNINGS ABOUT THE MILITARY INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX AND HIS OWN OBSERVATIONS, THEY PROTESTED THE
RACISM, ANTI-SEMITISM AND COLD
WAR IDEOLOGY OF HIS ADOPTED COUNTRY, WHICH LURIE FEARED COULD LEAD TO ANOTHER HOLOCAUST OR NUCLEAR WAR.

AND FUTURE GENERATIONS?

THE LURIE ARCHIVE WILL GIVE THEM THE OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN THE LESSONS OF THE HOLOCAUST FROM THE HAND OF AN ARTIST WHO VIEWED HIS WORK AS A FORM OF SOCIAL ACTIVISM. LURIE’S PAINTINGS AND SCULPTURES WILL OPEN THEIR 
EYES TO THE HORRORS OF HITLER’S ‘FINAL SOLUTION’ — AND FOCUS THEIR MINDS ON THE NEED TO ERADICATE THE KIND OF RELIGIOUS AND RACIAL PREJUDICES, AND POLITICAL OPPORTUNISM, THAT RESULTED IN THE MOST HEINOUS CRIME IN OUR RECORDED HISTORY.

BORIS LURIE (1924-2008)

BORIS LURIE WAS BORN INTO A WEALTHY JEWISH FAMILY IN ST PETERSBURG IN 1924, SHORTLY BEFORE LENIN DIED. THE YOUNG BOY’S FATHER, ILYA LURIE, HAD MADE A FORTUNE DURING THE FIRST YEARS AFTER THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION. BUT HE SAW THE CHANGES THAT WERE COMING, THE PROVERBIAL HANDWRITING ON THE WALL, AND DECIDED TO TAKE HIS FAMILY TO NEARBY LATVIA BEFORE IT WAS TOO LATE.

THE LURIES SETTLED IN RIGA, LATVIA’S CAPITAL, WHERE THEY LIVED WELL. BORIS ATTENDED THE BEST SCHOOLS; HIS ELDER SISTER WAS SENT TO STUDY IN ITALY; AND HIS MOTHER SPENT A MONTH OR MORE EACH WINTER IN PALESTINE, BUYING SO MUCH PROPERTY IN AND AROUND TEL AVIV AND HAIFA THAT LURIE’S ESTATE WAS STILL SELLING PARCELS OF IT NOT LONG AGO, REAPING YET ANOTHER FORTUNE FROM LAND NEAR HAIFA THAT HAD BECOME EXTREMELY VALUABLE.

UNFORTUNATELY, WHAT HAD BEEN A SAFE HAVEN FOR THE LURIE FAMILY IN 1924 BECAME A DEATH TRAP 17 YEARS LATER. WITHIN SEVERAL MONTHS OF THE GERMAN INVASION IN JULY, 1941, THE LURIES AND THE COUNTRY’S OTHER JEWS WERE INTERNED, MOST OF THEM IN THE RIGA GHETTO. THE ATROCITIES BEGAN SHORTLY THEREAFTER.

IN NOVEMBER AND DECEMBER, 1941, BORIS’ MOTHER, GRANDMOTHER, YOUNGER SISTER AND FIRST LOVE, A 16-YEAR-OLD GIRL NAMED LJUBA TRESKUNOVA, ALONG WITH 20,000 OTHER JEWISH WOMEN, WERE MARCHED TO THE RUMBULA FOREST NEAR RIGA.

STRIPPED OF THEIR CLOTHES, THEY WERE FORCED TO DIG THEIR OWN GRAVES 

IN THE BITTER COLD BEFORE THE SS STORM TROOPERS AND THEIR LATVIAN ACCOMPLICES SHOT THEM TO DEATH, ROW UPON ROW, ONE ON TOP OF THE OTHER.

CALLED “SARDINE PACKING,” THIS NEW METHOD FOR CARRYING OUT MASS MURDER WAS SO EFFICIENT THAT HITLER AWARDED ITS INVENTOR, SS GENERAL FRIEDRICH
JECKELN, A KRIEGSVERDIENSTKREUZ (WAR MERIT CROSS WITH SWORDS) FOR HIS INGENUITY.

 
 



TO SAY THAT THE COLD BLOODED MURDER OF HIS MOTHER, GRANDMOTHER, SISTER AND FIRST LOVE HAUNTED BORIS LURIE FOR THE REST OF HIS LIFE—OR THAT THE HOLOCAUST SHAPED BORIS LURIE’S WORLDVIEW, HIS ART AND HIS PERSONALITY UNTIL THE DAY HE DIED—WOULD SEEM TO BE NO MORE PROFOUND OR CONTROVERSIAL THAN TO SAY THE SUN RISES IN THE EAST OR THAT HITLER HAD IT OUT FOR THE JEWS.

TO SUGGEST, HOWEVER, THAT BORIS LURIE WAS AN ARTISTIC GENIUS WHOSE RAGE AND LOSS PRODUCED SOME OF THE 20TH CENTURY’S GREATEST PAINTINGS— OR THAT THE SEVERAL THOUSAND WORKS


 

NOW PRESERVED IN A NEW YORK CITY ART STORAGE FACILITY, CONSTITUTE GOD’S GIFT, THE UNDISCOVERED ‘ART OF THE HOLOCAUST,’ IS TO INVITE DISBELIEF, IF NOT RIDICULE AND SCORN.

SINCE I FIRST ENCOUNTERED BORIS LURIE’S WORK AND SHOWED IT AT THE (E)MERGE ART FAIR IN WASHINGTON TWO YEARS AGO, I HAVE BEEN ASKED REPEATEDLY, IF BORIS LURIE WAS SUCH A GREAT ARTIST, WHY HASN’T ANYONE EVER HEARD OF HIM?

THE ANSWER IS COMPLICATED, AS WAS THE ARTIST HIMSELF.

HE WAS OUTSPOKEN. 

HE REFUSED TO CURRY FAVOR WITH COLLECTORS AND MUSEUMS THAT MIGHT HAVE HELPED HIM. HIS POLITICAL VIEWS WERE CONSIDERED RADICAL. AND, IN THE EARLY 60’S, BEFORE THE SEXUAL REVOLUTION, MANY COLLECTORS THOUGHT THAT JUXTAPOSING PIN UP GIRLS WITH THE REMAINS OF HOLOCAUST VICTIMS, AS HE DID IN RAILROAD COLLAGE (1958-1959), WAS PORNOGRAPHIC AND DISRESPECTFUL.

HE SAW NO REASON TO EXPLAIN.

 

YET, TO HAVE SEEN RAILROAD COLLAGE, 
ADIEU AMERIQUE–LUMUMBA IS DEAD
 AND SEVERAL OF LURIE’S OTHER SEMINAL WORKS DISPLAYED ON THE WALLS OF A BUILDING OCCUPIED BY HITLER’S GESTAPO DURING THE SAME YEARS LURIE WAS IMPRISONED BY THE NAZIS, CONFIRMED, FOR ME ANYWAY, THE POWER AND THE IMPORTANCE OF LURIE’S ART.


QUITE SIMPLY, THE COLOGNE EXHIBIT LAST FALL, TITLED KZ-KAMPF-KUNST, BORIS LURIE: NO!ART, WAS AN EYE-OPENER.

LURIE’S BONA FIDES AS A HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR WERE QUICKLY ESTABLISHED AT THE OUTSET. BANNERS WITH PHOTOS OF HIS GRANDMOTHER, MOTHER, SISTER, AND THE YOUNG GIRL HE FELL IN LOVE WITH WERE FOLLOWED BY A BANNER WITH A PHOTOGRAPH OF  ILYA LURIE AND BORIS, LOOKING DAPPER IN KNICKERS AND A SPORTS JACKET. 

INTRODUCING THE EXHIBIT THIS WAY WAS NEITHER HOKEY NOR MELODRAMATIC.

UNDERSTANDING THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE WOMEN WHO WERE KILLED AND THE ART LURIE CREATED IS ESSENTIAL TO UNDERSTANDING THE MOTIVATION FOR THE ART — AND FOR MY VIEW THAT LURIE’S BODY OF WORK IS NOT JUST ART BY A HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR
 BUT THE ART OF THE HOLOCAUST. 

  

 

THE CURATOR OF THE EXHIBIT,
A GERMAN ARTIST NAMED WOLFGANG LEIDHOLD,
DID AN ADMIRABLE JOB OF SELECTING THE WORK
IN THE SHOW AND ORGANIZING THE EXHIBIT.


HE  PLACED LURIE’S EARLIEST WORK, FROM 1946 TO 1950, WHERE IT BELONGED, ON THE FAR WALL JUST AFTER THE PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE FOUR WOMEN, AND THE FINAL ONE OF ILYA LURIE AND BORIS IN SHORTS—JUST BEFORE THEIR LIVES FELL APART.

THE EARLY PAINTINGS AND DRAWINGS, ESPECIALLY THE ONE OF BORIS’S MOTHER, SHAINA, AND THE HOUSE  

 
 

IN THE RIGA GHETTO WHERE HE LAST SAW HIS MOTHER ALIVE, ARE THE WORK OF A YOUNG ARTIST WITH TALENT STILL SEARCHING FOR HIS OWN STYLE AND ARTISTIC IDENTITY. BUT THAT IS BESIDES THE POINT.

THEY ARE THE WORK OF A YOUNG MAN DEEP IN MOURNING. SO TO JUDGE THEM AS ONE MIGHT JUDGE OTHER ART IS TO REFUSE TO UNDERSTAND THEIR IMPORTANCE AND MEANING. THERE IS REALLY ONLY ONE WAY TO SEE THEM CLEARLY—AND THAT IS WITH TEARS IN YOUR EYES.


For the first 15 years after World War II, the American Jewish

community chose to remain largely silent about the Holocaust and

expected those Survivors who had resettled in the US to remain silent, too.  


But silence, for Lurie, wasn’t an option. Instead of being grateful for having

survived, he, like many other Survivors, was angry and felt guilty.

 


 

 
 

AS HE TRIED TO UNDERSTAND WHAT HAD HAPPENED AND WHY, HE CAME TO BELIEVE THAT TO HAVE REAL MEANING, THE LESSONS OF THE HOLOCAUST HAD TO BE UNIVERSAL; THAT IS TO SAY, “NEVER AGAIN” HAD TO APPLY TO PERSECUTED PEOPLES EVERYWHERE, NOT ONLY 
TO JEWS.


 THAT ALSO MEANT THE THREAT OF NUCLEAR WAR, ANOTHER KIND OF GENOCIDE IN LURIE’S VIEW, AND MILITARISM, IMPERIALISM AND ALL THE OTHER “ISMS” OF THE 50S AND 60S, INCLUDING MCCARTHYISM, WERE TO BE OPPOSED AND CONDEMNED EVEN IF THAT MEANT BEING OPENLY CRITICAL OF THE UNITED STATES.

DURING THE 50’S AND EARLY 60’S, THE AMERICAN JEWISH COMMUNITY WAS TRYING TO LOWER ITS PROFILE, TO ASSIMILATE AND SHED ITS IMAGE AS A BASTION OF LIBERAL-LEFTIST POLITICAL VIEWS AND A BREEDING GROUND FOR SOVIET SPIES. LURIE WAS GOING IN THE OTHER DIRECTION, USING FOUND SUITCASES AND HIS OTHER WORK TO INCREASE AWARENESS OF THE HOLOCAUST; HE BELIEVED THAT MAKING WHAT HAPPENED KNOWN WAS THE ONLY WAY TO PREVENT GENOCIDE ON A MASSIVE SCALE FROM HAPPENING AGAIN.


LURIE’S THINKING, EXPRESSED IN HIS ART AND IN MANIFESTOS HE ISSUED, PUT HIM ON A COLLISION COURSE WITH THE ESTABLISHED JEWISH COMMUNITY IN NEW YORK, WHICH EARNED HIM A REPUTATION AS A TROUBLEMAKER FROM WHICH HE NEVER RECOVERED.  


 
 

 
IF LURIE’S PORTRAIT OF HIS MOTHER SHOWED PROMISE, IT WAS IN THE EARLY 50’S THAT HE BROKE THROUGH AS AN ARTIST.

HIS DANCE HALL AND DISMEMBERED WOMEN SERIES PAINTINGS, SEVERAL OF THEM SHOWN IN COLOGNE,  WERE NO LESS THE WORK OF A HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR ATTEMPTING TO FREE HIMSELF FROM THE CRUELTY AND DEPRAVITY HE HAD WITNESSED AND EXPERIENCED, THAN HIS EARLIER DRAWINGS AND .


 

PAINTINGS WERE ATTEMPTS TO
DOCUMENT WHAT HE HAD SEEN AND TO REMEMBER WHAT HE HAD LOST.


THE DIFFERENCE WAS THAT THE 
GRUESOME, SEXUALLY FRAUGHT PAINTINGS LURIE CREATED IN THE 50’S DEMONSTRATED A FAR DEEPER AND RICHER ARTISTIC VOCABULARY; THEY WERE THE WORK OF A TALENTED ARTIST.


ONE NEED NOT BE A PSYCHIATRIST, ART HISTORIAN OR HOLOCAUST EXPERT TO SEE WHAT LURIE WAS DOING; HE WAS AT TIMES CONSCIOUSLY—BUT MORE OFTEN SUBCONSCIOUSLY—ATTEMPTING TO UNDERSTAND, AND  WORK OUT, THE HOLOCAUST’S EXISTENTIAL MEANINGS AS WELL AS THE ANGER, BITTERNESS, DEEP 
 

SENSE OF LOSS,  GUILT AND FEAR THAT HUGELY IMPACTED HIS POST-HOLOCAUST EXISTENCE, AS IT DID THE LIVES OF MOST OTHER SURVIVORS. 

WHAT HE CONSCIOUSLY THOUGHT HE WAS DOING, HOWEVER, WAS CREATING ART THAT WAS SOCIALLY AND POLITICALLY ENGAGED; ITS OVERRIDING OBJECTIVE BEING THE PREVENTION OF ANOTHER HOLOCAUST.

 

IN 1959, LURIE AND TWO OTHER ARTISTS, SAM GOODMAN AND STANLEY FISHER, FORMED WHAT THEY CALLED THE NO!ART MOVEMENT IN NEW YORK, LARGELY AN ATTEMPT TO COUNTER POP ART AND WHAT THEY THOUGHT WAS WARHOL’S MISGUIDED CELEBRATION OF MATERIALISM, CONSUMERISM AND CELEBRITY ITSELF. 

NO!ART REFLECTED LURIE’S VIEW THAT ART WAS NOT ABOUT PRETTY PICTURES—OR PRETTY SOUP CANS; RATHER, IT WAS HIS VIEW THAT ART SHOULD ENGAGE WITH, AND ATTEMPT TO INFLUENCE, THE GREAT SOCIAL AND POLITICAL ISSUES OF ITS TIME. THE NO!ART MOVEMENT ALSO REFLECTED LURIE’S GROWING ANTIPATHY FOR THE UNITED STATES. 

 
 

IT WAS DURING  THIS PERIOD (1959-1966) THAT HIS WORK BECAME ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY POLITICAL; IT WAS ALSO THE PERIOD WHEN IT SEEMS HE DID MUCH OF HIS BEST WORK, CREATING BRILLIANT COLLAGES USING PIN-UP GIRLS FROM GIRLIE MAGAZINES, BOTH FOR THEIR SHOCK VALUE AND TO EXPRESS HIS DISDAIN FOR THE REPRESSED SEXUALITY, HYPOCRISY AND CHEAP SENSATIONALISM WHICH LURIE THOUGHT CHARACTERIZED AMERICA’S WHITE MALE-DOMINATED SOCIETY AT THE TIME.

 

IN ADDITION TO HIS LARGE-FORMAT ADIEU AMERIQUE SERIES OF POLITICAL PAINTINGS FROM 1960-61, HE WAS ALSO DOING PORTRAITS OF THE POLITICAL  FIGURES OF WHOM HE APPROVED AND DISAPPROVED, SEVERAL OF WHICH WERC EXHIBITED IN COLOGNE.


 

THESE ALTERED PORTRAITS, OF RICHARD NIXON AND HIS RUNNING MATE IN THE 1960 ELECTION, HENRY CABOT LODGE, ARE UNAPOLOGETICALLY DAMNING AND COULD BE CONSIDERED PARTISAN DISTORTIONS OF THE TRUTH.

YET THEY ARE WONDERFUL EXAMPLES OF POLITICAL ART THAT IS ART, NOT PROPAGANDA—AN IMPORTANT DISTINCTION.

EVEN IF DISTORTED, LURIE WAS NOT FORCED OR PAID TO CREATE THE ALTERED PORTRAITS; HE WAS, INSTEAD, EXERCISING HIS FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS, A BEDROCK OF OUR DEMOCRACY THAT DISTINGUISHES THE UNITED STATES.


LURIE’S PORTRAIT OF JACQUELINE KENNEDY FROM 1963, ALSO EXHIBITED IN COLOGNE, SHOWS A DIFFERENT SIDE OF LURIE.  THE WORD NO APPEARS ON MANY OF HIS PAINTINGS FROM THIS PERIOD, USUALLY IN PROTEST. BUT HERE IT SEEMS THE ARTIST IS USING IT TO SIGNIFY SORROW AND DESPAIR. 


FOR MANY OF THOSE OLD ENOUGH TO REMEMBER, JOHN F KENNEDY’S ELECTION IN 1960—AND HIS ASSASSINATION IN 1963—WERE DEFINING MOMENTS, SHAPING THEIR UNDERSTANDING OF THE COUNTRY THEY

LIVED IN AND WHAT IT MEANT TO BE A CITIZEN OF THE UNITED STATES.

WHILE LURIE FELT BETRAYED EARLIER THAN MOST, HIS PORTRAIT OF MRS. KENNEDY SUGGESTS HE HAD A MORE NUANCED VIEW OF THE WORLD THAN SOME OF HIS CONTEMPORARIES MIGHT HAVE SUPPOSED.


THE LAST SECTION OF THE COLOGNE EXHIBIT WAS STRATEGICALLY PLACED IN THE BASEMENT OF THE BUILDING AT APPELLHOFPLATZ 23-25, WHERE THE GESTAPO HOUSED AND INTERROGATED PRISONERS FROM 1935 UNTIL THE END OF WORLD WAR II.

 

I SAY “STRATEGICALLY PLACED” BECAUSE VISITORS MIGHT OTHERWISE HAVE MISSED SEEING THE MOST SINISTER AND MOST EVOCATIVE PART OF THE BUILDING, THE SUBTERRANEAN CELLS AND THE LARGER ROOMS WHERE THE TORTURE EQUIPMENT WAS KEPT AND THE INTERROGATIONS TOOK PLACE. 

IT WAS IN THESE ROOMS THAT LURIE’S


 

SCULPTURES, MOSTLY FROM THE EARLY 70’S, WERE EXHIBITED. 

I MUST ADMIT I COULDN’T RELATE TO THEM THE WAY I COULD RELATE TO HIS PAINTINGS, DRAWINGS AND COLLAGES ON THE FLOOR ABOVE. BUT THAT COULD HAVE BEEN BECAUSE, BY THEN, I WAS TRYING TO COME TO TERMS WITH A THOUGHT I’VE HAD FOR SOME TIME THAT STILL WON’T GO AWAY:

HOW WAS IT POSSIBLE THAT BORIS LURIE ESCAPED DEATH TO CREATE THE ART OF THE HOLOCAUST, WHICH IS WHAT I THINK HIS ART IS?
 

I DON’T BELIEVE THERE IS A GOD WHO WOULD ALLOW SIX MILLION PEOPLE TO BE KILLED AND THEN SELECT ONE YOUNG MAN TO MAKE ART OUT THEIR SUFFERING —OR HIS OWN. YET I KNOW FROM MY OWN LIFE’S EXPERIENCE THAT IF ONE ESCAPES DEATH WITHOUT ANY CLEAR EXPLANATION, ATTRIBUTING ONE’S SURVIVAL TO LUCK OR A MIRACLE IS TO ADMIT THERE’S A FORCE BEYOND OUR CONTROL THAT DETERMINES OUR DESTINY.

WHAT I WROTE IN THE GUEST BOOK AFTER SEEING THE LURIE EXHIBIT IN COLOGNE IS THE MYSTERY I’M STILL TRYING TO SOLVE. WHY DO SOME LIVE WHEN OTHERS DIE?

“BORIS LURIE’S JOURNEY FROM BUCHENWALD TO GESTAPO HEADQUARTERS IN COLOGNE.

“THERE MUST BE A REASON.”


 

THE ART OF SOCIAL AND POLITICAL CHANGE

Copyright © 2014 by CHARLES KRAUSE REPORTING LLC All rights reserved.

Our mailing address is:
1300 13th Street NW, Washington, DC 20005

Pin-up-Girls im Lager – English translation

(Pin-up-Girls in the camp)

For the first time since his death in 2008 works of Boris Lurie are shown in Europe

19.06.2014 – by Rudij Bergmann
From http://www.juedische-allgemeine.de/article/view/id/19422(link is external)

At some point in 1945, maybe even a year later, Boris Lurie, forced by the Nazis, arrived at his homeland of choice, New York. When I met him thirty years later, at twilight in his entrance hall on 66th Street in Manhattan, in order to direct a movie about him, I quickly apprehended his nostalgia for Europe. It was there, in Berlin to be precise, that I had seen his unsettling paintings: concentration camp prisoners waiting for their liberation. Ghost figures between the hope and brokenness.

Framed by Pin-up Girls in explicit poses. Lurie, the survivor of a subcamp of the concentration camp Buchenwald, made the beautiful and the naked, the gassed and the escaped into his subject. Not in the dignified, ritualized, memorial manner we are used to and which has its own value, but balancing on a knife’s edge between voyeuristic lust and pure horror.

Fluxus

These works are substantially mirror images of own experiences of Boris Lurie, who was born in 1924 in Leningrad and grew up in Riga. His oeuvre is political and goes far beyond the Shoah: as far as the America of the Vietnam war, the Missle Crisis, the Cold War, and includes an attack on “good taste,” and attacks on the rigged rules of the game in politics, art, and society. That was and continued to be the agenda of the movement Lurie co-founded and essentially determined. He was, so to speak, their Andy Warhol.

In an artistic and aesthetic sense, Lurie, who after 1950 discovered collage for his own use, is closely related to abrasive Fluxus-art; especially to Wolf Vostell, the political representative of Fluxus. They were united through an artistic relationship whose basis was their dealing with the Shoah. How close this “Jewish” elective affinity was, will be examined in July, when my movies about Lurie and Vostell confront each other in a showing in the Spanish Malpartida de Cáceres.

To place the first European exhibition after the artist’s death in 2008 at the local Museo Vostell Malpartida, in Extremadura, in collaboration with the New York Boris Lurie Art Foundation, was a clever decision. Surrounded by the art of his friend Vostell and other Fluxus giants, the museum offers a place from which to view Lurie’s diverse art a little more under the focus of the current art discourse.

Mixed-media

Up to now, even for Lurie aficionados, it was difficult to see his work exhibited. Like the “Three Women” paintings of 1955, which remind us of the ghost figures who announce mischief in Goya’s “Black series.” But also many far lesser-known canvases and objects, like the fiercely painted suitcases – symbols of real banishment and homelessness – show Boris Lurie’s fine skill as a mixed media artist.

His collages, especially, are atrocious masterpieces of a memorial art that does not whine, does not gabble, does not hide behind secure aesthetic realms. As much as the offenders and the followers, Lurie attacks those who kept quiet and those who allegedly knew nothing.

Of course it is unfortunate that some of the important, large-sized oil and collage paintings are missing from this commendable exhibition, probably for conservational reasons, but the Museo Vostell exhibition does display at least one of the incunabula of Lurie’s art: “Railroad Collage.” This work, over and over again, deeply affects survivors and their descendants. Lurie has glued a pin-up girl, her slip pulled down over her buttocks, to a photograph of a wagon of corpses, so that she offers the full front of her naked body to the murdered.

The accusation that Boris Lurie, whose mother and sister had been killed by the Nazis, would denigrate the concentration camp deaths is just as incomprehensible as it is false. And to defame his work as misogynistic is far too simple, even if we can somehow allege that the man Lurie, in art and life, had less than the most noble motives.

Ambivalence

Undoubtedly there is an inherent ambivalence in Lurie’s art that he shares with other artists whose work explicitly treats sexuality and violence. One only has to think of Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” a work which can be read equally as a hotbed of sin and a future paradise. Boris Lurie was aware of this ambivalent effect of his art. In my movie he stated in conversation that he would have preferred to paint impressionistically, which he knew quite well, but there was always the necessity to deal with the past, with the social truths, precisely with unpleasant, “tough things.” But this, he said, did not bring him any luck.

However, the “Railroad Collage,” and even the complete works, can be read as an allegory of triumphant life, over all of the mass murder and the genocides of history. So it goes with the very Janus-faced victory of loves and drives.

In any case, what Lurie did not achieve, his pictures did: in the year of his 90th birthday they went back to Europe temporarily. And soon they will even be at his starting point: Germany. The second station of the exhibition, in an altered form, will be at the NS-Dokumentationszentrum in Cologne. A respectable location whose audience will be drawn from beyond the circle of those interested solely in art. Art that wants to have a lasting effect beyond the occasion of its creation, and not just in this country, needs a spot in an art museum. Everything else is everything else…that’s just as true for Picasso’s art as for Boris Lurie’s.

 

La primera muestra española de Boris Lurie llega al Vostell – English translation

(The first show in Spain of Boris Lurie comes to the Vostel)

L. L. 02/06/2014

No Spanish museum has ever held a solo retrospective of the painter Boris Lurie, chief proponent of the NO!Art movement that emerged in the sixties in the United States.

He suffered very traumatic experiences in various concentration camps. Because of that, his work is a reflection of the tumultuous period through which he lived, both his experience of the Holocaust, but also of the emerging consumer society that he found in the United States. The Museo Vostell Malpartida is hosting the first Spanish solo show of his work, organized in collaboration with the foundation in his name, and curated by Chris Shultz.

The exhibition, which can be seen until July 20, includes 29 works. Lurie, of Russian descent (Leningrad, 1924 – New York, 2008), is the supreme representative of NO!Art, a movement that arose in opposition to the movements then fashionable in the United States, particularly Abstract Expressionism and Pop-Art. Boris Lurie and the other NO!Artists, among them Wolf Vostell, Günter Brus, Leon Golub, Allan Kaprow and Jean-Jacques Lebel, fought for the creation of a pure art using the base materials of consumerism that would confront difficult truths and expose the contradictions of contemporary society.

 The show is open from Tuesday to Saturday, from 9:30 am to 1:30 pm and 5 pm to 8 pm, and Sundays, from 9:30 am to 2:30 pm. It is accompanied by a bilingual catalogue (Spanish-English) that includes reproductions of all the works, a critical essay by Chris Shultz, a poem by Boris Lurie and a text by Vostell.

http://www.elperiodicoextremadura.com/noticias/caceres/primera-muestra-espanola-boris-lurie-llega-vostell_806919.html(link is external)

 

El arte después de la barbarie de Boris Lurie – English translation

(Boris Lurie’s Art After Barbarism)

by Fernando Castro Flórez

Modernity forced us to understand that poetry settled in the city’s broken billboards, in the landscape of the suburbs, in that which bears testimony to suffering. Boris Lurie (Leningrad, 1924 – New York, 2008) was without a doubt a crucial witness, who transformed the experience of concentration camps (he lived in the Riga Ghetto and survived the labor camps of Riga, Lenta, Salaspils and Stutthoff, to later suffer the extreme cruelty of Buchenwald-Magdeburg), by confronting his traumatic personal imagery with the cynicism of the New York in which he arrived in 1946 at the age of 22. In this dizzying place in the mid-fifties he founded NO!Art with Sam Goodman and Stanley Fisher to express complete hostility towards decorative aesthetics and, above all, the art market.

Visceral and obsessive

That Lurie’s work is being shown for the first time in Spain at the Museo Vostell, is the result of a friendship that has connected the two artists since Vostell’s 1963 trip to New York, and which led them to exhibit together in 1974 at the Gallery Rywelsky in Cologne. Both were visceral and obsessive artists, capable of understanding that reality is not the spectacle that enchants us, but what beats in its traumatic foundation. “Lurie’s reality,” writes Chris Shultz, “comprised his memory, his loss, the desire and alienation he felt in New York, and the anger he felt at so much aesthetic and ideological hypocrisy.”

Opposed to the pure and autonomous “flatness” of Greenbergian modernism and the agoraphobia of Abstract Expressionism, but also far from Pop’s approval of consumer culture, Lurie chose what the American way of life had classified as waste. It seems that he was scarred by a reprimand from George Grosz, who had reproached Lurie for “not being honest,” forcing him to accept the chaos of contemporary life, through which he began generating collages of a tremendous horror vacui.

In 1963, the critic Joyce Johnston remarked that, in the scope of his oeuvre, his torn-paper collages are “among the most direct protests” because here the artist avoids “refinements” and gets closer, “by the crude disarray, to the content.” Negativity leads to an art of abjection – the assemblage of trash – without falling into a post-romantic sublimation of ruins.

Morbid sexuality

Lurie’s compositions are replete with images of women, with a corporal tension that doesn’t shirk the pornographic, that details a morbid or sinister sexuality. Familiar and odd, obscene and repressed, at the limits of disgust and pulsing with frenetic excitement, NO!Art reveals a paradoxical voyeurism whose underlying layer is the suffering of the Holocaust.

In Lurie’s collages we find “layers of the lost” that recall the savage races of the mad, but that also recover the desperate voices who have to “feel, scratch, beat against concrete walls of today.” Lurie, with model courage and through the dehumanized present, has salvaged for us his desiring waste, his indignant negation – such moving memento mori.

Lurie bei Vostell – Ein faszinierende Neu-Entdeckung aus den 1960er Jahren – English translation

(Lurie at Vostell – A fascinating rediscovery of the 1960s)

Wulf Herzogenrath/KUNSTZEITUNG 2014

It is always fascinating to discover an artist, as one finds themselves again surprised at how many distinct artists have been overlooked by the art scene, even for decades. Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) may be the most famous example, and Gustav Metzger (1926 – lives in London) is probably the most recent famous example: this German-Jewish artist of Polish descent was able to escape extermination by the Nazis as a 13-year-old in 1939, fleeing to London, but would have to wait half a century for proper recognition of his “Auto-Destructive Art” events of the sixties, which occurred as part of a large-scale exhibition at the Tate Britain.

Boris Lurie is part of the same generation as Metzger and the other artists who really belong to the “lost generation,” whose adolescence – and often lives – were stolen by the National Socialists.  His story most closely mirrors that of Yehuda Bacon’s, who learned to draw in Theresienstadt as a 13-year-old, and survived the camps to become one of the most significant witnesses of the Holocaust, serving from 1959 onward as an influential professor at Bezalel-Academy in Jerusalem. 

Boris Lurie was born in Leningrad in 1924, escaped from Stalin with his parents to Riga, where he went to the German school until the Nazis occupied Latvia in 1941 and the Lurie family was deported to different camps and his grandmother, mother, and sister were killed. Lurie survived and emigrated to the United States after the liberation. Nevertheless, the radicalism of his “NO!Art” attitude grated with the ideals of young Americans, his consumer-critical political art fit neither with the conception of Abstract Expressionism nor with that of Pop Art. His radical themes of violence and sexuality, even the union of both, scandalized many – and today it still seems “politically incorrect” – and the origin of these experiences of destruction and nakedness are even stranger in the context of American Art than in the Fluxus-environment or in Western European Art.  

That is why it makes sense that the Spanish Museo Vostell Malpartida can lay the ground for the rediscovery of this exciting, tense, oeuvre. Wolf Vostell’s own work combines the seemingly opposite themes of political violence, war, and German and contemporary history (Vietnam), with sexual freedom.  At the time of its creation representations of female bodies were still considered pornography: see “Heuschrecken” (“Grasshoppers”) 1960/70 with its juxtaposition of two blown-up shots of a couple making love with documentary footage of a tank rolling towards people during the “Prague Spring,” and 20 monitors that capture the startled observer live in “closed circuit” (Collection Ludwig, today at MuMoK Vienna). 

For his collages of depictions of women, Boris Lurie sampled from women’s and pin-up magazines, generating repeating rhythms of fictitious female phenotypes, drawing over them again and again, changing them or making them partially invisible. The process of these works’ realization was as important to him as confronting images of women in the American media of the sixties – which he addresses with the addition of the huge letters “NO,” and then one understands further Sarah Schmerler’s statement in the prologue of a 1998 gallery exhibition: “Most American artists of the forties were fresh out of art school. Lurie fresh out of Buchenwald.”

The commitment of Gertrude Stein – beginning with her Gallery Gertrude Stein in 1963, and continuing beyond Boris’ death in 2008, with the establishment of the Boris Lurie Art Foundation in New York – to preserve Lurie’s oeuvre and its legacy in the art world, is beginning to show results: this summer’s Spanish exhibition of 29 works with a special focus on the sixties, accompanied by a catalogue, and then another exhibition from August 27 to November 2 at the NS Dokumentations-Center in Cologne – this inaugurates a necessary rediscovery. The small-format collages, some relief-like, plastic, their very material quality foremost, can stand next to the work of Rauschenberg or Vostell. The mid-size headless “portraits” of the “Altered Photo Series” of 1963 retain a great freshness and frankness, even today. And the apogee of the work we know so far seems to be the large-sized works of the “Love Series” like “Bound on Red” of 1962 –blow-ups of small reproductions to almost 2 meters that produce coarse dot-grid patterns, well before Polke had done any work highlighting this technique. 

El arte después de la barbarie de Boris Lurie

por Fernando Castro Flórez

La modernidad nos obligó a comprender que la poesía está sedimentada en los carteles rotos de la ciudad, en el paisaje de las afueras, en aquello que rinde testimonio del sufrimiento. Boris Lurie (Leningrado, 1924-Nueva York, 2008) fue sin duda un testigo crucial que transformó la experiencia de campo de concentración (vivió en el gueto de Riga y pasó por los campos de trabajo de aRiga, Lenta, Salaspils y Stutthoff, para luego sufrir la crueldad extrema de Buchenwald-Magdeburg), confrontando su imaginario traumático con el cinismo de Nueva York, a donde llegó en 1946 con 22 años. En esa zona vertiginosa fundó, a mediados de los cincuenta y con la colaboración de Sam Goodman y Stanley Fisher, el NO!Art, mostrando una absoluta animadversión contra las estéticas decorativas y, sobre todo, el mercado del arte.

Viscerales y obsesivos

Por primer vez se muestran en España obras de Lurie, en el Museo Vostell, consecuencia de la amistad que unió a estos dos artistas desde el viaje del alemán a Nueva York en 1963, lo que les llevó a exponer juntos en 1974 en la galería Rywelsky de Colonia. Eran dos artistas viscerales y obsesivos, capaces de comprender que la realidad no es el espectáculo que nos hechiza, sino aquello que late en un fondo traumático. “La realidad de Lurie –apunta Chris Shultz- se compone de su memoria, su pérdida, el deseo y la alienación que sintió en Nueva York, y el enfado que percibió por tanta hipocresía estética e ideológica”.

Frente a la “planitud” pura y autónoma del modernismo greenbergiano y la agorafobia de expresionismo abstracto, pero también lejos del asentimiento pop ante la cultura del consumo, Lurie eligió lo desechado por el American way of life. Parece ser que le marcó una reprimenda de George Grosz que le exigía “no ser deshonesto”, y así aceptó lo caótico de la contemporaneidad generando collages de un tremendo horror vacui.

El crítico Joyce Johnston señaló en 1963 que sus collages de papeles rotos estaban “entre las protestas más directas” porque aquí el artista evitaba “el refinamiento” y se acercaba, “mediante el desasosiego crudo, al contenido”. La negatividad lleva a un arte de la abyección, al ensamblaje de la basura sin caer en una sublimación post-romántica de la ruina.

Sexualidad mórbida

Las composiciones de Lurie están repletas de imágenes de mujeres, con una tensión corporal que no elude lo pornográfico, detalles de una sexualidad de una dimensión mórbida o siniestra. Familiar y extraño, obsceno y reprimido, en el límite del asco e impulsado por un excitación frenética, el NO!Art revela un voyeurismo paradójico que tiene como sustrato el sufrimiento del Holocausto.

En los collages de Lurie encontramos “capas de lo perdido” que recuerdan las salvajes carreras de los locos, pero también recuperan la voz de los desesperados que tienen que “sentir, rasgar, golpear hoy las paredes de hormigón”. Lurie, con valentía ejemplar, atravesó una zona deshumanizada para entregarnos sus residuos deseantes, su negación indignada, ese memento mori conmovedor.

ALDO TAMBELLINI, artist, primitive and innovator

Beatrice Bondi

La Voce, September 13, 2013
Translated by Anna M. Salamone

The Tosco-American pioneer of multi-media brings to the James Cohan Gallery spaces his works which span thirty years of experimentation, among planets, satellites, projections and poetry.

We are the Primitives of a New Era, paintings and projections 1961-1989, is the title and the driving force behind the exhibition of this Italian-American artist at the James Cohan Gallery in Chelsea curated by Joseph Ketner. The exhibition which opened on September 12 may be visited until October 19th. This is Tambellini’s first exhibition in a New York Gallery in almost forty years and revisits the philosophy of space exploration which has inspired the work of this artist for decades. In fact, it was this curiosity about space and the willingness to understand and capture the energy which emanates from this vision which moved the artist to create works which were totally visionary for the times.

Aldo Tambellini was born in the 1930s in Syracuse, New York, but he grew up in Lucca, Italy, where he lived the horrible years of war, which has led him to his conviction that “the earth will someday die.”

Probably, this premonition about the end, combined with the curiosity of a genius have brought Tambellini to be among the first artists in the ’60s to explore new technologies as a means of artistic expression. Experimenting with new technologies and deliberately combining painting, photography, cinematography, music and poetry, the artist creates his multi-media performances in which he is able to create and transmit a sensory experience which he called Electromedia, which inspired other artists such as Andy Warhol and Steina Vasulka.

Tambellini’s artistic practice is based on black and its opposite white and alternating these two non-colors, he creates concentric circles and spirals that appear to be a manifestation of energy. “Black is the beginning. It is birth, the oneness of all, the expression of consciousness in all directions.” These are some of the artist’s verses which are projected around the exhibition, which emphasize in a perfect manner, the importance of black in all of his works.

In order to pay homage to this multi-media pioneer, the James Cohan Gallery has set up four different viewing sections, in the first, one can admire the images created by Tambellini in his attempt to capture the energy transmitted by television. In the second room, we find the installation, Black Space, a real multi-media spectacle of films, sound, projections of poetry verses which were written by the artist, these embrace the environment, occupying the entire walls and even a part of the floor. Entering in this room, we find ourselves enveloped in a sensorial experience which transmits a feeling of being totally immerse in the cosmos, navigating as an astronaut among darkness and planets. The images are made by creating spirals on glass slides and to look at these they appear to be photographs from outer space.

In the third room, are his paintings which represent circles and spirals where the black and white deliberately alternate, forming a convincing representation of space and of the black holes which one finds in it.

It is incredible how the artist was able to represent in such a realistic manner a reality of which little was none at the time. Today, we are so used to the photographs which are sent back to earth by the satellites, that it is not difficult to find realistic representation of space, but Tambellini created these images in the ’60s when only a few people had a correct vision of what was out in space. He imagined black space and spirals which reproduced elliptic orbits, representing things which were dismissed at that time and transmitting the energy which gets trapped in those concentric circles. The tour of the show ends with an area set aside for video where one can view and listen to the first experiments by the artist with a video camera.

Today, at 83, the Tosco-American pioneer of multi-media dedicates his time to poetry, and he still has much to say.

Key Events

1956
Boris Lurie meets fellow artist Sam Goodman at the Cedar Tavern.

1957
Boris Lurie founds the artist-run March Gallery, one of the famous 10th Street cooperative galleries in New York, with his friend Rocco Armento, William Gambini, and 21 other artists.

1959
Boris Lurie begins to make the NO!art collage and transfer works. He also meets writer and poet Stanley Fisher. Later this year, Boris founds the NO!art movement with Sam Goodman and Stanley Fisher.

1960
With Sam Goodman and Stanley Fisher, Boris Lurie takes over the leadership of the March Gallery from Elaine De Kooning in New York City. The March Gallery mounts the first of the shows of canonical NO!art, the Vulgar Show.

1961
The March Gallery hosts the Involvement Show and the Doom Show.

1962
They travel to Italy. Sam Goodman and Boris Lurie display works at Galleria Arturo Schwarz in Milan. The Doom Show is invited to Galleria La Salita in Rome. Boris Lurie meets Gertrude Stein.

1963
Gallery: Gertrude Stein in New York opens with a show of Boris Lurie’s Multiplications. Boris oversees much of the programming, including the NO Show.

1964
Boris Lurie has NO Posters: ANTI-POP show, and with Sam Goodman mounts the infamous NO Sculpture Show [Shit Show], both at Gallery: Gertrude Stein.

Boris Lurie Art foundation

120 Brighton Road, Unit 4
Clifton, NJ 07012 USA
[email protected]
www.borislurieart.org

President

GERTRUDE STEIN

Chairman

ANTHONY WILLIAMS

Senior Adviser

RAFAEL VOSTELL

Collections Manager / Registrar

ELIZABETH MISEO

Assistant Registrar

PATRICK GORA

BORIS LURIE VIRTUAL GALLERY – Open 24/7

Concept & architecture

RAFAEL VOSTELL

Design & 3D

PEP SEGUÍ, SAMUEL GARCÍA

Programming

DAVID FUSTER

Texts

JOSÉ ANTONIO AGÚNDEZ GARCÍA 
ECKHART J. GILLEN
CECILIA GONZÁLEZ
THOMAS HEYDEN
FRANCISCO JARAUTA
JÜRGEN KAUMKÖTTER
JULIA KISSINA 
MARKO KOSAN
CLAUDIA MARQUARDT
IVONNA VEIHERTE
KURT WETTENGL
and
BORIS LURIE

Narrator

PATRICK GORA 
ANDY VALVUR

lmage research & proof reading

ELIZABETH MISEO

© Video on Gertrude Stein : MOCAK & Boris Lurie Art Foundation

© Video Trailer on Boris Lurie: BERGMANNsART & Boris Lurie Art Foundation

Legal Notice: The design, content , images, texts and videos are the property of the Boris Lurie Art Foundat ion . No part of this gallery may be used in any form in public without written permission of the copyright owner.

© Boris Lurie Art Foundation, 2020

Boris Lurie exhibition history 


2020
Boris Lurie in America: He had the courage to say NO!, January 26 – April 26, 2020, The Center for Contemporary Political Art, Washington, DC 


2019
Portable Landscapes and Imaginaries of Refugee Modernism, Nov.19, 2019 – Feb. 15, 2020, The James Gallery, The Graduate Center, CUNY, New York, NY 

Altered Man: The Art of Boris Lurie, Nov. 15, 2019 – Jan. 15, 2020, Odesa Fine Arts Museum, Odessa, Ukraine

Shit and Doom – No!art, Sep. 19 – Nov. 3, 2019, Cell Project Space, London, United Kingdom

Altered Man: The Art of Boris Lurie, September 6, October 30, 2019, Kyiv National Art Gallery, Shokoladnyi Budynok Art Center, Kyiv, Ukraine

It is The Sunlight That Warms The Room, Sep. 1, 2019 – Mar. 31, 2020, Museo Vostell Malpartida, Caceres, Spain

Boris Lurie: American Nonconformist, August 29 – November 11, 2019, The State Russian Museum / The Stroganov Palace, St Petersburg, Russia 

Confrontation NO!art Group, Jul. 20 – Nov. 30, 2019, Janco-Dada Museum, Ein Hod Israel

Boris Lurie: Artist and Witness, April 26 – June 23, 2019, Mark Rothko Art Centre, Daugavpils, Latvia

Flashes of the Future: The Art of the ’68ers or The Power of the Powerless, Apr.20 – Aug. 19, 2019, Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst, Aachen, Germany

Boris Lurie and NO!art Group, April 5 – June 2, 2019 Koroška Art Gallery, Slovenj Gradec, Slovenia

Forgetting: Why We Don’t Remember Everything, Mar. 6 – Jul. 14, 2019, Historisches Museum, Frankfurt, Germany

NO!art Exhibition, Jan. 11 – Mar. 10, 2019, The Riga Bourse (Latvian National Museum Of Art), Riga, Latvia 


2018
Boris Lurie-Art After the Holocaust, October 26, 2018 – January 2019, MOCAK Museum of Contemporary Art In Krakow, Krakow, Poland

Boris Lurie in Habana, October 6, 2017 – January 28, 2018, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Havana, Cuba


2017
You’ve Got 1243 Unread Messages, Dec. 9, 2017 – Feb.4, 2018, Latvian National Museum of Art, Riga, Latvia

Boris Lurie: Anti-Pop, March 17 – June 18, 2017 Neues Museum Staatliches Museum für Kunst und Design Nürnberg, Germany

Inventing Downtown: Artist-Run Galleries in New York City, 1952–1965, Jan.10 – Apr. 1, 2017, Grey Art Gallery, NYU, New York, NY

Boris Lurie: Life After Death, January 6 – February 18, 2017, Westwood Gallery, New York NY 


2016
Boris Lurie. Adieu Amérique, October 27, 2016 – January 8, 2017, CAMERA – Centro Italiano per la Fotografia, Torino, Italy

Boris Lurie NO!, June 25 – November 23, 2016, Janco Dada Museum, Ein Hod, Israel

No Compromises! The Art of Boris Lurie, February 26 – July 31, 2016, Jewish Museum Berlin, Berlin, Germany

Unorthodox, Nov. 6, 2015 – Mar. 27, 2016, Jewish Museum, New York , NY


2015
Boris Lurie NO!art, October 22 – December 22, 2015 Galerie Odile Ouizeman, Paris, France 


2014
KZ — Kampf — Kunst. Boris Lurie: NO!art, August 27 – November 2, 2014, National Socialism Documentation Center, Cologne, Germany 

Boris Lurie, May 18 – July 14, 2014, Museo Vostell Malpartida, malpartida de Caceres, Spain

Dessinez Eros, Jun. 11 – Jul. 22, 2014, Galerie Odile Ouizeman, Paris, France 


2013
Art against art: Yesterday and Today: Boris Lurie in the Fifth Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, September 20 – October 20, 2013 Biennale of Contemporary Art, Moscow, Russia

Boris Lurie at (e)merge, October 3 – October 6, 2013 (e)merge art fair, Washington, D.C., United States

Boris Lurie: The 1940s: Paintings and Drawings, September 20 – November 15, 2013, Studio House, New York, NY

The Three Prophets: Sam Goodman, Stanley Fisher, Boris Lurie, April 27 – June 22, 2013 The Box, Los Angeles,California 

Boris Lurie NO!, David David Gallery, November 16, 2012 –  January 4, 2013, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 


2012
Boris Lurie: NO!art of the 1960s: Boris Lurie in Florence, Italy, Robert F. Kennedy

Center for Justice & Human Rights, June 8 – July 31, 2012, Firenze, Italy

A Self To Recover: Embodying Sylvia Plath’s Ariel, Oct. 23,  2012 – Feb. 4, 2013, Indiana University Art Museum, Bloomington, IN 


2011
NO! The Art of Boris Lurie, Chelsea Art Museum, March 26 –  May 15, 2011, New York, NY

Boris Lurie: No!art: Prologue to a Retrospective, Pierre Menard Gallery, January 25 – February 25, 201, Cambridge, Massachusetts

NO!art at the Barricades, NO!art 50 Years Later, Jun. 9 – Jul. 31, 2011, Chelsea Art Museum New York, NY


2010
Boris Lurie–No!art: An Exhibition of Early Work, Westwood Gallery, June 4 –  July 31, 2010 New York, NY 


2009
On the Tectonics of History, International Studio and Curatorial Program, May 28 – June 28, 2009, Brooklyn, NY


2005
THE 80s: 326 YEARS OF HIP: with Boris Lurie, Mary Beach, Herbert Huncke and Taylor Mead, Clayton Gallery & Outlaw Art Museum, January 19 to March 31, 2005, New York

Wild Boys, Bad Boys, Outsiders, and Originals, Clayton Gallery, New York


2004
Optimistic – Disease – Facility, Boris Lurie – Buchenwald–New York, with Naomi T. Salmon, Haus am Kleistpark, May 7 – June 20, 2004, Berlin-Schoeneberg

Feel Paintings / NO!art show #4, Janos Gat Gallery, February 17 – March 20, 2004,  New York


2003
Optimistic – Disease – Facility, Boris Lurie – Buchenwald–New York, with Naomi T. Salmon, Buchenwald Memorial, August 30 – October 19, 2003, Weimar-Buchenwald

NO!-ON, Gallery Berliner Kunstprojekt, November 8 to December 1, 2003 Berlin 


2002
NO!art and the Aesthetics of Doom, Iowa Museum of Art, Apr 27 – Jun 23, 2002,  Iowa City, IA

2001
NO!art and the Aesthetics of Doom, Block Museum, Northwestern University, November 9, 2001 – January 13, 2002, Evanston, IL 


1999
Life – Terror – Mind, Buchenwald Memorial, Weimar, Germany

BORIS LURIE: COLLAGES & PRINTS 1950 – 1999, Gallery Dorn, August 14-22, 1999, Stuttgart, Germany

Knives in Cement and Other Selected Constructions, University of Iowa Museum of Art, South River Gallery, March 1999, Iowa City, IA 


1
998  
Boris Lurie: Works 1946-1998, Buchenwald Memorial, December 23, 1998 – May 10, 1999, Weimar, Germany

NO!art Show #3 with Dietmar Kirves, Clayton Patterson & Wolf Vostell, Janos Gat Gallery, July – October 1998, New York

Tompkins Square Park Police Riots: 1988 to 1998, Then ‘til Now, Clayton Gallery, August 7 to 30, 1998, New York 


1995
NO!art, Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst, Oct 21 to Nov 26, 1995, Berlin  

Boris Lurie und NO!art, Haus am Kleistpark, Berlin

Dance Hall Series, endart Gallery, Berlin

Holocuast in Latvia, Jewish Culture House, Riga, Latvia


1994
NO!art: Boris Lurie, Isser Aronovici and Aldo Tambellino, Clayton Gallery, New York 


1993
Outlaw Art Show, Clayton Gallery, New York


1989
On the wall / Graffiti between Anarchy and Gallery, Nassauischer Kunstverein 30. April 1989 to 18. June 1989 Wiesbaden 


1988
Feel-Paintings, May 1988, Gallery and Edition Hundertmark, Cologne


1978
Counterculturale Art: Boris Lurie, Erro and Jean-Jacques Lebel, American Information Service, Paris 


1975
Recycling Exhibition, Israel Museum,  June – July 1975,Jerusalem  


1974
Boris Lurie at Inge Baecker — Inge Baecker Galerie, Bochum, Germany

NO!art Bags, Galerie und Edition Hundertmark, Cologne

Boris Lurie & Wolf Vostell, Galerie Rewelsky, Cologne

NO!art with Boris Lurie, Sam Goodman & Marcel Janco, Ein-Hod-Museum, Ein-Hod, Israel


1973
NO!art Painting Since 1959, Galerie René Block, Berlin; Galleria Giancarlo Bocchi, Milano


1970
Art & Politics, Kunstverein Karlsruhe


1964
NO & ANTI-POP Poster Show, Gallery Gertrude Stein, January 14 to February 8, 1964,  New York

Boxes, Dwan Gallery, Los Angeles


1963
NO!show, Gallery Gertrude Stein, New York

NO SHOW with Rocco Armento, Stanley Fisher, Ester Gilman, Sam Goodman, Gloria Graves, Allan Kaprow, Yayoi Kusama, Boris Lurie, Jean-Jacques Lebel, Michelle Stuart, Richard Tyler, Gallery Gertrude Stein, October 8 to November 2, 1963, New York

Boris Lurie at Gallery Gertrude Stein, Gallery Gertrude Stein,  April 16 through May 4, 1963, New York 


1962
Sam Goodman & Boris Lurie, Galleria Arturo Schwarz, September 19 to October 29, 1962, Milan

Doom Show, Galleria La Salita, November 1962, Rome 


1961
Pinup Multiplications, D’Arcy Galleries, New York

Involvement Show with Isser Aronovici, Rocco Armento, Al D’Arcangelo, Herb Brown, Ferró (Erro), John Fisher, Stanley Fisher, Esther Gilman, Sam Goodman, Gloria Graves, Dorothy Gillespie, Ted Joans, Allan Kaprow, Yayoi Kusama, Jean-Jacques Lebel, Bob Logan, Lora, Suzan Long (Harriet Wood), Boris Lurie, Mihal Mishorit, Jerome Rothenberg, Michelle Stuart, Richard Tyler, Ray Wisniewski, Lee Zack, March Gallery, April 1961, New York

Doom Show, Stanley Fischer, Sam Goodman, Jean-Jacques Lebel and Boris Lurie, March Gallery, November 1961, New York 


1960
Dance Hall Series, D’Arcy Galleries, New York

Adieu Amerique, Roland de Aenlle Gallery, New York

Les Lions,  March Gallery, New York

Tenth Street New York Cooperative, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Vulgar Show, March Gallery, New York; Joe Marino’s Atelier, New York


1959
Drawings USA, Museum of Modern Art, New York

10th Street, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston


1958
Black Figures, March Gallery, New York


1951
Dismembered Figures, Barbizon Plaza Galleries, New York


1950
Boris Lurie, Creative Gallery, New York

Boris Lurie Art foundation

120 Brighton Road, Unit 4
Clifton, NJ 07012 USA
[email protected]
www.borislurieart.org

President

GERTRUDE STEIN

Chairman

ANTHONY WILLIAMS

Senior Adviser

RAFAEL VOSTELL

Collections Manager / Registrar

ELIZABETH MISEO

Assistant Registrar

PATRICK GORA

BORIS LURIE VIRTUAL GALLERY – Open 24/7

Concept & architecture

RAFAEL VOSTELL

Design & 3D

PEP SEGUÍ, SAMUEL GARCÍA

Programming

DAVID FUSTER

Texts

ECKHART J. GILLEN
CECILIA GONZÁLEZ
THOMAS HEYDEN
FRANCISCO JARAUTA
JÜRGEN KAUMKÖTTER
JULIA KISSINA 
CLAUDIA MARQUARDT
IVONNA VEIHERTE
KURT WETTENGL

Narrator

PATRICK GORA 
ANDY VALVUR

lmage research & proof reading

ELIZABETH MISEO

© Video on Gertrude Stein : MOCAK & Boris Lurie Art Foundation

© Video Trailer on Boris Lurie: BERGMANNsART & Boris Lurie Art Foundation

Legal Notice: The design, content , images, texts and videos are the property of the Boris Lurie Art Foundat ion . No part of this gallery may be used in any form in public without written permission of the copyright owner.

© Boris Lurie Art Foundation, 2020

Boris Lurie Art foundation

120 Brighton Road, Unit 4
Clifton, NJ 07012 USA
[email protected]
www.borislurieart.org

 

BORIS LURIE VIRTUAL GALLERY – Open 24/7

President

GERTRUDE STEIN

Chairman

ANTHONY WILLIAMS

Senior Adviser

RAFAEL VOSTELL

Collections Manager / Registrar

ELIZABETH MISEO

Assistant Registrar

PATRICK GORA

Concept & architecture

RAFAEL VOSTELL

Design & 3D

PEP SEGUÍ, SAMUEL GARCÍA

Programming

DAVID FUSTER

Text

ECKHART J. GILLEN
FRANCISCO JARAUTA
JULIA KISSINA
CLAUDIA MARQUARDT
IVONNA VEIHERTE
KURT WETTENGL

Narrator

PATRICK GORA
ANDY VALVUR

lmage research
& proof reading

ELIZABETH MISEO

© Video on Gertrude Stein : MOCAK & Boris Lurie Art Foundation

© Video Trailer on Boris Lurie: BERGMANNsART & Boris Lurie Art Foundation

Legal Notice: The design, content , images, texts and videos are the property of the Boris Lurie Art Foundat ion . No part of this gallery may be used in any form in public without written permission of the copyright owner.

© Boris Lurie Art Foundation, 2020