Leader of a Confrontational Art Movement, Dies at 83
By COLIN MOYNIHAN
Published in: New York Times, on January 12, 2008
Boris Lurie, a Russian-born artist who survived the Holocaust and then depicted its horrors while leading a confrontational movement called NO!art, died Monday in Manhattan. He was 83.
The cause was kidney failure brought on by complications of a stroke, said Gertrude Stein, an art dealer and longtime friend.
Mr. Lurie was born in Leningrad in 1924 but soon after moved with his family to Latvia. During World War II he was imprisoned in a succession of concentration camps, absorbing graphic images that would resurface decades later in etchings, paintings and collages.
After moving to New York in the mid-1940s, Mr. Lurie settled on the Lower East Side and began painting. In 1959, along with Sam Goodman and Stanley Fisher, he formed a group that began exhibiting at the March Gallery.
Their work, which appeared in displays with names like the Doom Show and the Vulgar Show, was intentionally jarring and provocative. Mr. Lurie and the others aimed to provide an unvarnished representation of the violence and alienation that they felt mirrored the bleak reality of the nuclear age.
A 1962 etching by Mr. Lurie, for instance, combined a swastika and a Star of David. A 1959 work, “Railroad Collage,” superimposed an image of a partly dressed woman over another image of corpses stacked on a flatbed rail car.
“We are not playful!” Mr. Lurie wrote in a statement for a show in Milan in 1962. “We want to build art and not destroy it, but we say exactly what we mean — at the expense of good manners.”
Members of the March Group, as these artists came to be called, considered their creations to be life-affirming rather than nihilistic. They wrote that they were reacting to “the hallowed sickness of a world preparing to die” and called their work “Art for Survival.”
The artists gave a name to their movement, NO!art, the following year, when they staged a show at the Gallery Gertrude Stein in Manhattan. That work was meant to be a rebellion against Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art as well as a protest against dehumanizing influences like fascism, racism and imperialism.
“They were saying no to a world that was saying yes, buy more, spend more,” said Ms. Stein, the gallery owner. “It was retaliation against the consumerism of the post-Second World War boom.”
Dietmar Kirves, a German artist who maintains a Web site about the history of the movement (no-art.info), said that Mr. Lurie was “a fighter against the hypocritical intelligentsia, capitalist culture manipulation, consumerism and other molochs.”
Mr. Lurie, the last survivor of the three artists who started out at the March Gallery, left no immediate survivors. He continued to make art through the 1970s and 1980s but took part in only a handful of shows during those decades, all overseas.
In 1993 the Clayton Gallery on the Lower East Side organized the first American show in 29 years to display Mr. Lurie’s work. In subsequent years his work appeared in several shows in the United States, Latvia and Germany, including one in 1998 at the opening of the Buchenwald Museum, Ms. Stein said.