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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.

House of Anita by Boris Lurie

House of Anita 2nd ed. (hardcover)
 
Lurie worked on the composition of House of Anita from the seventies almost up to the end of his life. It is his Ecce homo. In the guise of an S/M novel, if a quite surreal, absurd, and poignant S/M novel, the work attempts to come to terms with the circumstances of his traumatic youth interned in the Nazi death camp at Buchenwald, while exploring the meaning of the life of the artist and the place of art in the post-Holocaust world, and railing against the degradation of art by the market. Though not strictly speaking an allegory, and certainly not simply autobiography cloaked in leather and chains, House of Anita does employ the philosophy and vocabulary of a highly specialized mode of experience, the world of organized sado-masochism, to depict and examine the “ordinary” post-Holocaust world. In tone and sensibility the work falls in the lineage of Alfred Jarry, Franz Kafka, and Kathy Acker. 
By Boris Lurie 
with a foreword, afterword, comments and appendixes by Terence Sellers (1952-2016) 
NO!art PUBLISHING New York 2016 
Copyright © 2016 NO!art Publishing
NO!art Publishing is the publishing arm of the Boris Lurie Art Foundation. 
Second Edition. ISBN: 978-0-9905376-1-8 
Printed in the U.S.A. 
333pp.

ДОМ АНИТЫ (House of Anita, Russian translation)

Борис  Лурье – ДОМ АНИТЫ
 

«Дом Аниты» – эротический роман. «Дом Аниты» – роман о Холокосте. 

Эту книгу написал в Нью-Йорке на английском языке родившийся в Ленинграде художник Борис Лурье (1924–2008). 5 лет он провел в нацистских концлагерях, в том числе в Бухенвальде. Почти вся его семья погибла. Борис Лурье чудом уцелел и уехал в США. Роман, который он писал много лет, был опубликован в 2010 году, после его смерти. 

Дом Аниты – сексуальный концлагерь в центре Нью-Йорка. Рабы угождают госпожам, выполняя их прихоти. Здесь же обитают призраки убитых евреев. Роман посвящен ритуалам этого тайного общества, которое постепенно распадается. Исчезает и прежний Нью-Йорк: в него прибывает Сталин и его танки, а сексуальные рабы отправляются в Албанию, казавшуюся автору идеальным государством. 

Лурье демонстрирует, что после Холокоста ограничения сняты, поскольку нарушены все моральные нормы. Такая литература подобна изнасилованному человеку, которому уже все равно: он может только кричать о своем отчаянии. Роман «Дом Аниты» – это вопль, но только не о помощи, а о чудовищном факте, свершившемся злодеянии.

Перевод Юлии Кисиной и Валерия Нугатова, 430 страниц, ISBN 978-5-98144-237-7 

«Дом Аниты» – эротический роман. «Дом Аниты» – роман о Холокосте. 

VASA INIQUITATIS ‑ СОСУД БЕЗЗАКОНИЙ

книжная серия издательств «Kolonna publications» и «Митин журнал», основана в 2002 году

Hardcover

In Riga – A Memoir

Boris Lurie, In Riga - a memoir book cover
 

Boris Lurie’s memoirs were discovered after his death and have only now been transcribed. They were originally contained in several boxes filled with yellowed paper; various writings, some typewritten, others in longhand; notes in English, German and Russian; greeting cards, letters, newspaper clippings. This volume presents only the first third of these reflections, specifically on Riga and the events of the Holocaust.

By Boris Lurie
Edited and Introduced by Julia Kissina
Cover design by Chris Shultz
Book design by Harold Wortsman
Printed in the USA
Introduction © Julia Kissina
First edition

ISBN: 978-0-578-51209-9

VIEW PDF SAMPLE

Boris Lurie in America: He had the courage to say NO!

Boris Lurie in America: He had the courage to say NO! - catalog cover
 

Catalogue for Boris Lurie at the Center for Contemporary Political Art in Washington, DC
26 January to 26 April 2020

CENTER FOR CONTEMPORARY POLITICAL ART (CCPArt)

Exhibition Dates: 26 January – 26 April 2020 

In collaboration with the Boris Lurie Art Foundation

Curators: Charles Krause and Robin Strongin

Essays: Robin Strongin, Charles Krause, Dr. Dorothea Dietrich, Dr. Eva Fogelman
All texts © authors

Artwork images © the Boris Lurie Art Foundation

Catalogue Design: Rich Webster, Richard Media Company
Matt Landini, Bluelight Strategies

Copyright © 2020 Center for Contemporary Political Art.

ISBN: 978-0-578-63542-2

The Center for Contemporary Political Art
916 G Street NW, Washington DC 20001
www.politicsartus.org

CCPArt BOARD
Charles Krause, Founding Director
Robin Strongin, Co Founder
Phyllis Greenberger

Altered Man: The Art of Boris Lurie

Altered Man – The Art of Boris Lurie
 

Exhibition catalogue for the National Museum, Kyiv Art Gallery (Chocolate House) and Odessa Fine Arts Museum. Text in English and Ukrainian

Project Curator: Julia Kissina

Selection of artworks: Igor Satanovsky

Text: Boris Lurie, Julia Kissina, Alisa Lozhkina, Alexander Soloviev

Translation: Irina Grinenko, Katerina Tsan

Editing: Harold Wortsman, Tetiana Kryshtalovska

Design and Layout: Victor Volodymyrov-Lykholit

ISBN: 978-617-7778-09-6

Boris Lurie. American Nonconformist

 Boris Lurie Russian Museum catalog cover
 

Catalogue for the exhibition Boris Lurie: American Nonconformist at the The State Russian Museum. 

Available in English and Russian.

Director of the Russian Museum: Vladimir Gusev
Editor-in-Chiel: Evgenia Petrova
Text: Alexander Borovsky
Translation from Russian: Katherine Foshko Tsan
Proofreader: Olga Bulatova
Art Director and Designer: Joseph Kiblitsky

ISBN: 978-3-90617-85-6

Boris Lurie & Mark Rothko: Truth or Mysteries

Boris Lurie & Mark Rothko: Truth or Mysteries
 

The book compares two Jewish artists – Mark Rothko and Boris Lurie. Both spent their childhood in Latvia, in a Russian-speaking environment. Both faced hostile attitudes and came to the United States under traumatic circumstances – Rothko in 1913, Lurie in 1946. Until the end of their lives they did not feel at home in America. Both rejected the American way of life, but took refuge in art, and found inspiration in the search for creative resistance to a foreign culture. 

by Eckhart J. Gillen
English/German/Russian
8.27 x 5.90 
101 pages, 40 color images.
Published by Boris Lurie Art Foundation & Mark Rothko Art Center
ISBN 978 9934 535949

Shit and Doom NO!art

Catalog for Shit and Doom NO!art, 2019, 19 September – 3 November 2019, London, UK
 

Catalog for Shit and Doom NO!art, 2019, London, UK

Shit and Doom – NO!art

19 September – 3rd November 2019

Works by: Isser Aronovici, Stanley Fisher, Dorothy Gillespie, Sam Goodman, Yayoi Kusama, Suzanne Long, Boris Lurie, Lil Picard, Aldo Tambellini, Richard Tyler, Stella Waitzkin

Curated by Tim Steer

Supported by Boris Lurie Art Foundation, Arts Council England, Cockayne and The London Community Foundation

Thanks to: Gertrude Stein, Director, Boris Lurie Art Foundation; Milika Muritu, Director, Cell Project Space

Acknowledgements: Henry Broome, Rachael Davies, Hampus Hoh, Zhihan Jia, Harry Ruhé, Anna Salamone, Chris Shultz, Jessica Wallen, Katherine Wilson

Design and layout: @marciamihotichstudio

Published by: Cell Project Space & Cell Foundation
258 Cambridge Heath Road, London E2 9DA, United Kingdom

© 2019 Cell Project Space
Texts © the authors 2019
Artworks © The Boris Lurie Art Foundation
(unless otherwise specified)

ISBN 978-1-9162154-0-5

Confrontation NO!art Group

Confrontation NO!art Group
 

Exhibition catalogue for the Janco-Dada Museum, Israel. Text in Hebrew and English

Curator: Raya Zommer-Tal
Research and Text: Dr. Irit Miller
Editing and assistance: Galit Ben-Ami
English Translation: Talya Halkin (Irit Miller’s article); Donna Bossin (Raya Zommer-Tal’s article)
Hebrew Translation: Nurit Manor-Gazit
Catalogue design: Rachie Sernoff-Wallfish
Cat. No: 126/2019
 
Exhibition Page: 

Confrontation NO!art Group

Boris Lurie: Art and Witness

Boris Lurie Rothko Centre catalog
 

Catalogue for the exhibition Boris Lurie: Art and Witness at the Daugavpils Mark Rothko Art Center, Latvia. Text in English, Latvian and Russian

Curator: Farida Zaletilo
Text: Boris Lurie, Gertrude Stein, Dore Ashton
Design: Inga Girvica
Translation: Inga Gedzune, Farida Zaletilo
Editor: Farida Zaletilo
ISBN: 978-9934-535-84-0

Boris Lurie and NO!art

Boris Lurie and NO!art

Boris Lurie and NO!art cover
 

Exhibition catalogue for the Koroška Galerija Likovnih Umetnosti. Text in English and Slovenian.

Curator: Ivonna Veiherte, Rafael Vostell, Marko Košan
Text: Ivonna Veiherte, Andreja Hribernik, Marko Košan
Translation: Polona Glavan
Proof-readers: Mojca Hudolin, Chris Shultz
Editor: Marko Košan
Design: Matija Kovač, Zgradbazamisli
ISBN: 978-961-6827-16-4

Boris Lurie and NO!art

Boris Lurie and NO!art
 

Catalog for NO!art Exhibition in Riga, Latvia, a traveling exhibition from Boris Lurie Art Foundation with 67 works by major NO!artists.

Artists

Boris Lurie, Sam Goodman, Stanley Fisher, Aldo Tambellini, John Fischer, Dorothy Gillespie, Allan D’Arcangelo, Erró, Harriet Wood (Suzanne Long), Isser Aronovici, Yayoi Kusama, Jean-Jacques Lebel, Rocco Armento, Wolf Vostell, Michelle Stuart

Texts

Introduction by Daiga Upeniece, the Head of Art Museum RIGA BOURSE
The Secret Component of Great Art by exhibition curator Ivonna Veiherte
Yvonna Veihertes interview with Gertrude Stein in September 2018 in New York
Vugar Show Statement by Stanley Fisher (1960)
Involvement Show Statement by Boris Lurie (1961)
Doom Show Statement  by Stanley Fisher (1961)
Introduction to Sam Goodman ‘NO-sculptures’ by Boris Lurie (1964)
Introduction to the NO-sculptures show by Thomas B. Hess
Local : Sculpture (Gallery: Gertrude Stein) by Tom Wolfe, 1964
Merde, Alors! by Dore Ashton (1989)
Bull by the Horns by Harold Rosenberg (1974)

Catalog

Compiler:Ivonna Veiherte
Scientific editor: Stella Pelše
© Texts: Ivonna Veiherte, Daiga Upeniece, Peter Weibel
© Biographies of the artists: Boris Lurie Art Foundation
© Photos: Boris Lurie Art Foundation, Getty Images, Whitney Museum of American Art, YAYOI KUSA MA Inc., Berlinische Galerie, Courtesy Ilija & Mangelos Foundation and galerie frank elbaz The Rachofsky Collection, Photo-Graphik-Witting/Hundertwasser Archiv, Vienna, Museum of the Polish Army in Warsaw, Succession Yves Klein c/o Adagp, Paris, 2018 excepté pour l’oeuvre intitulée : “Le Saut dans le Vide, Fontenay-aux Roses, France, Octobre 23 1960”. Action artistique d’Yves Klein
© Succession Yves Klein c/o ADAG P, Paris – Collaboration Harry Shunk and János Kender
© J. Paul Getty Trust. Collaboration Harry Shunk, 1924–2006 et János Kender, 1938–2009.
Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Sueddeutsche Zeitung Photo, ZKM | Zentrum fur Kunst und
Medien Karlsruhe, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven
Design: Inga Rušmane, Andrejs Lavrinovičs
Translation from English: Ieva Leščinska-Geibere, Gunta Liepiņa, Vita Birzaka
Translation into English: Valdis Bērziņš, Gunta Liepiņa
Translation from German: Inta Tiļļa
Editors and proof-readers: Ieva Rupenheite, Chris Shultz
Publisher: © Latvijas Nacionālais mākslas muzejs & Boris Lurie Art Foundation, 2019
Printed: Jelgavas tipogrāfija

ISBN 978-9934-538-26-1

Boris Lurie: Pop-Art After the Holocaust

Boris Lurie: Pop-art After the Holocaust
 

Catalog for Boris Lurie: Pop-art After the Holocaust, 26 October 2018 – 31 January 2019, Krakow, Poland. Polish and English.

Boris Lurie
Pop-art po Holokauście
Pop-Art After the Holocaust

Redakcja | Managing editor: Delfina Jałowik

Teksty | Texts: Delfina Jałowik, Bartosz Kwieciński, Boris Lurie, Maria Anna Potocka, Gertrude Stein

Przekład | Translation: Lillian Banks, Alicja Gorgoń, Anda MacBride, Barbara Ostrowska, Magda Witkowska

Opracowanie redakcyjne | Editors: Anna Mirkowska, Mariusz Sobczyński

Korekta tekstu angielskiego | English proof-reading: Alicja Gorgoń

Projekt graficzny, DTP | Design, DTP: Rafał Sosin

Fotografie na s. | Photographs on pp. 60, 61 (d.ł | bottom): Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team

Fotografia na s. | Photograph on p. 61 (g.ra | top): Archiwum Instytutu Pamięci Narodowej | Archive of the Institute of National Remembrance

Prace na s. | Works on pp. 218, 232, 237 (prawa | right): Gertrude Stein Collection

Fotografie ekspozycji | Exhibition photographs: Rafał Sosin

Wszystkie pozostałe prace Borisa Luriego oraz pozostałe fotografie archiwalne | All the other works by Boris Lurie and all other archival photographs: ˝ Boris Lurie Art Foundation and the artists

Recenzenci | Reviewers: dr Łucja Piekarska-Duraj, Teresa Śmiechowska

© MOCAK, Boris Lurie Art Foundation, and contributors
ISBN 978-83-65851-21-5

Boris Lurie in Habana (hardcover)

Boris Lurie in Habana exhibition catalog cover, 2017
 

Catalog for Boris Lurie in Habana 2017 exhibition, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Havana, Cuba.

Published by Boris Lourie Art Foundation. Spanish-English; 180 pages.

1st Edition of 2000: 1000 in hardback (ISBN 9780692911457)

With DVD of the documentary “The Art of Boris Lurie” directed by Rudij Bergmann

In the collection of Shain Library at Connecticut College

Jorge Fernández
«Boris Lurie: un inadaptado al establishment del arte» / «Boris Lurie: A misfit in the art establishment»

Joan Guaita, Comisario de la Exposición / Exhibition Curator statement

Francisco Jarauta
«Boris Lurie: NO!art»

Rudij Bergmann
«Boris Lurie y Yo» / «Boris Lurie and I»

Boris Lurie: Acerca del artista / Boris Lurie: About the artist

Selección exposiciones de Boris Lurie / Selected exhibitions of Boris Lurie

Acerca de «Boris Lurie Art Foundation» /About Boris Lurie Art Foundation

 
Read Online: 
Boris Lurie in Habana
 
Exhibition Page: 
BORIS LURIE in Habana

No Compromises! The Art of Boris Lurie

No Compromises! The Art of Boris Lurie catalog
 

Boris Lurie is an artist who pushed for political relevance in art and the art trade. With his widely discussed and controversial works, he indicted a society that seemed to go out of its way to avoid dealing with crimes against humanity by packaging its testimony to these crimes between advertising and everyday platitudes.

The catalog accompanies Jewish Musem Berlin’s major retrospective show to Boris Lurie(link is external) (26. February to 31 July 2016).

Having grown up as the son of a Jewish family in Riga, Boris Lurie and his father survived several ghettos and concentration camps. In the United States, to where he emigrated in 1946, he created a remarkable artistic oeuvre that will go down in history as a radical examination of the twentieth century.

This book accompanying the retrospective at the Jewish Museum Berlin is dedicated to the art of Boris Lurie with a section of images as well as six essays by Eiko Grimberg, Volkhard Knigge, Gertrud Koch, Matthias Reichelt, Tal Sterngast, Mirjam Wenzel, and a preface by Cilly Kugelmann.

Edited by the Jewish Museum Berlin

176 pages with 200 color illustrations

Kerber Verlag Bielefeld/Berlin

ISBN: 978-3-7356-0196-4

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.

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.

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

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)

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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