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DIETMAR KIRVES IN CONVERSATION WITH BORIS LURIE
Published in: neue bildende Kunst, Zeitschrift für Kunst und Kritik, Nr. 1/95, Berlin 1995.
“It is extremely difficult to produce a kind of art that history will pass over in silence, that the art magazines will dismiss, that will embarrass collectors and be offensive to most other artists. The Lurie-Goodman-Fisher activities in the March Gallery and later in the Gertrude Stein Gallery succeeded in achieving this large negative.” (Brian O’Doherty, 1971). In the 60s founders of NO!art Boris Lurie, Sam Goodman and Stanley Fisher developed a provocative alternative to the “optimism of the cheerful Pop production” (Wolf Vostell) by radically performing SHIT SHOW 1964 at March Gallery, New York and at the Gertrude Stein Gallery later. A today really ignored chapter of American art has arisen after the experience with the Holocaust and the disgust concerning the affirmative practice of art, a “strategic juncture where artistic production meets socio-cultural action.”
Dietmar Kirves: Boris, you already look back at seventy years of life. You were born in Leningrad in 1924. The time during the revolution in Russia was the peak of contemporary history. Your parents emigrated to Latvia with you. There the barbarous Nazi separated your family in the ghetto of Riga. You were 17 years old. You got number 95966 in the concentration camp in Buchenwald. You survived the horror at the age of twenty-one. Your eyes seem full of grief, death and massacres. You went to New York then. At that point of time the patina-formed Statue of Liberty already has been standing around there for 60 years. Weren’t you frightened by the affluence you met there? How did your idea occur to make paintings? Haven’t you been able to get rid of your impressions? Has it been your intention to illustrate the chaos? Did you intend to show the development of mankind facing the atomic bomb on Hiroshima?
You started drawing “Dismembered Women” then. Have you been against women giving birth to soldiers all over the world? Or why did you cut up women’s bodies on canvas?
You got together with others at that point of time to take action against the establishment in art business? How did you work then? Did you want to start a sexual revolution against war? Did you want to question it all?
We didn’t want to kiss the arses on top. By luck we found cheap rooms in downtown. Tenth Street near Bowery was such an area. The trash was lying on the street there. All this brought up with the “unappetizing” Expressionism and the “Street Art” of the wrecked and dangerous Lower East Side and our desperation: A rebellion against the “art world” and all the rest! The slave has got nothing to lose but his chains! We didn’t want to know anything about sexual revolution against war. We rather were against marketing of women in the mass media. And further on we were against commercialisation of sex by women themselves. No satisfaction without spending money.
We were against the suppressed natural sex aggression of men. The at that time non-bourgeois art scene was completely filled with sex rage which they extinguished with alcohol. That means in my pin-ups there had been rage against women. The pin-up mixture to me personally as well symbolized the mass graves e.g. in Riga where mostly women were killed. For Stanley Fisher it based on his experience as soldier in Normandy. Goodman expressed his dissatisfaction of being outsider in regard to his lack of money. Several artists had been busy in our March Gallery.
We worked in all sorts of different trends of art, i.e. we were independent in our aesthetics in contrary to other galleries which were more or less dominated by young Abstract Expressionists. But the gallery slowly died since many artists looked for the co-operating galleries in Tenth Street as a trampoline to jump into the uptown galleries. They found themselves useless at our place. They liquidated themselves for having no output. So we took over the March Gallery in a non-democratic way to represent but just one direction, i.e. this one of radical protest art and of personal expression without limits to moral or aesthetics. NO!art was born. From now on the gallery was called March Group and we organized as “rebels”.
How did you then choose your artists for exhibitions, environments and actions? Which slogans did you have?
The experience of space was more important than the framed picture on the wall only for the lonesome moneyfucker. It’s the system then and not that little money. We were against hushing and psychological lies. “Art” is education, propaganda as well, and works on its own, apart from economical facts. Our way of practising is as well to be seen as a military strategy against Pop Art. It’s obvious today that entire generations have been influenced by propaganda and were persuaded. A member of the working class as well as a petit bourgeois might emotionally be more reactionary as an individual moneyfucker. Our slogans had been serious by blood when we said: “CUNT ME, FUCK ME, PRICK ME, ...” It was by no means Dadaistic critical humour. It was our rage that we shouted out. This we had in mind when we acted and the people came to us. Nobody thought about not acting like this or reducing it as not having enough money. Our money had been our free ideas. So we didn’t let anybody fuck our thing.
And what did you do in the March Group?
But you can’t live on without any profit. Nowadays you have to buy clothes with imprinted advertising which you don’t like to have to cover your shame. And only the big ones make a profit from. However, you may remove the labels if you don’t want to wear them. How did you manage to cut off from the labels of profit? Didn’t you actually sell something to survive?
Me, I almost never sold, today I’m more fertile than ever! Therefore, it even has advantages not to get fucked by the market. NO!art as well never would have been formed if the market would have accepted and caressed its disciples. The role for the artist to play in society is in any case not the same role like the one during the time of Rembrandt when the artist used to be a regular craftsman. Today he should be similar to a prophet in a desert. There’s enough of decorations and prudent aesthetic discoveries! His problem is how to survive .. how to create … how to involve actively … how to protect his work from destruction … He should not fall into the trap of the art establishment and the art industry in the case he’s becoming “famous”. Nowadays, the art system namely is as dilapidated as never before due to its great success. Maybe this already happened in slighter dimensions with the academic artists of the 19th century. Everyone who reflects upon will comprehend how the art industry works today. It’s no secret any longer. The artists currently stagger from the left to the right and from the top to the bottom without having any idea how to help themselves. Their only answer is just a cynical egoist state of mind: They hypocritically conform and protest at the same time. But we’re looking for another track: Perhaps just in small selected elitist groups outside of the establishment to fight our partisan battles and to sometimes manifest in the establishment at short notice. Since this, however, is controlled by the entire propaganda machine and one isn’t able to be heard without, attention has to be paid for not being conformed.
I just remember the negotiations in the Gertrude Stein Gallery together with number two of the Pop Art establishment, collector and promoter Mister Kraushaar. It happened at two o’clock in the morning. He wanted to separate Goodman and me to classify us as Pop Art and to take over the Stein Gallery as a satellite whereupon Goodman offended him by saying: “I shit on you, too!” The whole negotiation was blown by that. It reminds me of Isser Aronovici’s remark to this in the NO!art book: “Neither Sam nor Boris have been famous until today but the reputation of their work has been upholded until the end. Everything would have gone down the drain at least, if six million dead Jews wouldn’t have gotten Sam to drop such a mean remark to the wealthy speculator. So he fulfilled his job to save his own and Boris’ reputation from the brink of disaster.” Unfortunately Aronovici committed suicide three months ago when he ran into a subway tunnel, lay down on the rails and waited for the train to come.
And what was the people’s comment to your exhibitions and actions? How did they react?
Thank you for the interview, Boris. Let’s make more NO!art.