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NO!art AND THE AESTHETICS OF DOOM

Curator   Estera Milman

November 9, 2001 through January 13, 2002
Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art Northwestern University | 1967 South Campus Drive | Evanston, IL
TAGGED:  WARNING + FLYER + VIEWS + ACKNOWLEDGMENTS + CATALOG
FOREWORD + GUESTBOOK + SYMPOSIUM + REVIEW

WARNING:

Show display
Show with artworks by Rocco Armento, Isser Aronovici, Herb Brown, Al D'Arcangelo,
Stanley Fisher, Dorothy Gillespie, Sam Goodman, Allan Kaprow, Yayoi Kusama, Jean-Jacques Lebel,
Boris Lurie, Lil Picard, and Wolf Vostell

This exhibition has been funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency,
the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, and the friends of Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art.
Director: David Mickenberg—Curator of the Exhibition: Estera Milman

+ + + THE CONTENT OF THIS EXHIBTION MAY NOT BE SUITABLE FOR ALL VIEWERS + + +
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FLYER:

Flyer
Flyer, 8 pages, 20.3 x 12.7 cm
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VIEWS:

Block MuseumEntranceBoris Lurie "NO", 1961Boris Lurie "Lumumba is Dead", 1963
Gillespie & Goodman "American Way of Death", 1964Sam Goodman "Shit sculptures", 1964
CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE
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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS By David Mickenberg

Director Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art

The opportunity to present the exhibition, NO!art and the Aesthetics of Doom, was first proposed to the museum by Rainer Rumold of the Department of German Literature and Critical Thought at Northwestern and Editor of Northwestern University Press' Avant-garde and Modernism series. Some time ago, Professor Rumold helped to facilitate a conference and exhibition on German Expressionism at the Block, in collaboration with Professor Otto Karl Werckmeister and Curator Reinhold Heller. Over the last several years, Rumold and Estera Milman, Director of Alternative Traditions in the Contemporary Arts, The University of Iowa, have collaborated on a number of publications, conferences, and exhibition projects. In 1992, Milman curated an important exhibition of Fluxus material from the Alternative Traditions in the Contemporary Arts collection. Organized by Franklin Furnace in collaboration with the Anthology Film Archive, Fluxus: A Conceptual Country, traveled to the Block where it constituted an important part of a series of exhibitions, symposia, and other public events in the greater Chicago area. The Fluxus exhibition and its attending programs introduced the museum to a wide array of collaborators devoted to the engagement of movements, ideas and works that had yet to receive either broad scholarly attention or significant presentation in the general community. Once again, NO!art and the Aesthetics of Doom, enables the museum to enter into a discourse with history. With Estera Milman as Curator of the NO!art exhibition and Editor of NO!art: Artworld Politics and the Culture o f Dissent and Rainer Rumold helping guide the publication of this anthology, to be produced in conjunction with a symposium on the NO!art movement at the Block, the museum is once again looking at a period in art too long overlooked and deserving greater discourse and understanding. As a museum, we facilitate collaborations with leaders in various fields of the arts and humanities. It is a pleasure, once again, to be in association with both Milman and Rumold.

As is true with all exhibitions at the museum, the final presentation represents the input of numerous people with expertise in a variety of areas of key importance to the interpretation, design, communication and conservation of the exhibition to varied museum audiences. Dabney Hailey, the museum's Curatorial Assistant, has been integral to establishing the communication and collaboration necessary for such an ambitious project. Deb Wood, Assistant Curator, Dan Silverstein, Preparator, Carole Towns, Business Administrator, and Brooke Dierkhising, Assistant to the Director, have all been of integral importance in establishing NO!art as a permanent fixture on the horizon. In organizing this project, support has been received from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency, the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, a federal agency, and the Friends of the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art.

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CATALOG:

cataloag, front


"NO!art"
and the Aesthetics of Doom


Catalog, 30 pages, 26.5 x 22.8 cm
Copyright © May 2001
ISBN 0-941680-20-7

Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art,
Nortwestern University.

Essay copyright © 2001 retained by the author.
Image coipyrights © 2001 reatained
by the artists and the NO!art Archive.

Funded, in part,
by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Design: Ab Gratama, Iowa City, IA
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FOREWORD BY ESTERA MILMAN (CURATOR):

I first met Boris Lurie, the only surviving founding member of the March Gallery group, or NO!art collective, in late September of 1992. My initial introduction to NO!, or more specifically to a wealth of challenging, late 1950s and early 1960s photomontages, constructions and assemblages by Lurie, Sam Goodman and Stanley Fisher and their numerous coconspirators, was orchestrated by Gertrude Stein of the Gallery Gertrude Stein in New York. Gertrude's gallery on Madison Avenue had, in the early 1960s, served as the second base of operations for the collective's iconoclastic insurgencies. It all began quite normally, as artworld encounters go. My exhibition, Fluxus: A Conceptual Country, had just opened as a cross-town festival in New York City's Tribeca, SoHo, and Lower East Side. I had brought one of neo-Dada's paradigmatic underground movements "home" after decades of semi-exile and The New York Times, Art forum, Art News, and Art in America lauded the event. The opening was packed. Artists, poets, composers, filmmakers, and critics outnumbered members of the general public. The crowd filled the exhibition spaces and spilled into the streets. I had known Gertrude for some years and she came to the opening with Patio Rosenberg, daughter of the venerated anti-formalist critic whose watershed 1952 essay, "The American Action Painters," provided an alternative, transactional, and inherently anti-aesthetic, conceptual armature for what Alfred Barr and others called Abstract Expressionism. Rosenberg's thesis would later be refashioned by Allan Kaprow, the father of "Happenings," and would subsequently serve as model for succeeding generations of event artists and other neo-Dadaists.

The following day, I joined Gertrude for a drink and, without warning, was introduced to Boris. I was handed a copy of Lurie's and Beat poet Seymour Krim's bilingual anthology, NO!art: Pin-ups, Excrement, Protest, JewArt (with contributions by Brian 0'Doherty, Harold Rosenberg, Thomas B. Hess, Tom Wolfe, Marcel Janco, Dore Ashton, Gerhard Gassiot-Talbot, Gregory Battcock, Mario de Micheli, Jean Toche, Lil Picard and Wolf Vostell, among others), a publication that Gertrude had helped subvent some years earlier. Flipping through the book I found myself shifting back and forth between extreme discomfort and unprecidented excitement. Gertrude insisted that NO! was the only authentic artistic radicalism of the period and that everything else she had since encountered was "just art." Soon thereafter, Boris and I visited the series of studios and underground spaces scattered across New York City that had, since the mid 1960s, served as repositories for some of the most powerful and difficult Cold War era works that I had as yet encountered. Overwhelmed by the raw energy that emanated from these artifacts some thirty-odd years after their realization, I felt as if I had unearthed a time capsule. Boris and I concurrently began our animated discussions of the formalist agendas of the artworld, broadly described, that had resulted in NO!art's initial marginalization. We also initiated our ongoing dialogue about the artist's recurrent juxtaposition of images of mass-marketed sex (and other cultural cliches) and his direct, first-person experience of genocide. In retrospect, I find it difficult to believe that, at the outset, I had naively assumed that the excavation of NO!art would be but a logical, albeit complicated, expansion of my in-progress historiographic investigation of the interrelationship of neo-Dada, artworld pretensions, and cultural taboos. Instead, the project forced me to open my own proverbial pandora's box and to embark on a complex and deadly serious journey of self-discovery. By so doing, I admittedly crossed a line that, as both an historian and displaced persons' camp-born descendant of "victims" and "survivors," I had long been reticent to breach.

Although rarely discussed at length in the mainstream art historical literature, by the late 1950s and early 1960s, the term "neo-Dada" had come to encompass the production of John Cage and his disciples Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, participants in the Fluxus collective (often described, even in introductory art history textbooks, as a loose association of artists, poets, and musicians who, under the influence of Cage, attempted to challenge the distinction between art and non-art), constructors of Happenings, The New Realism, Common Object Painting, the New Vulgarians, the works soon to be canonized under the new rubric "American Pop Art," and the overtly political, anti-Pop "Wart" group. Although neo-Dada was considered by some to be a rubric coterminous with cultural critique, it was often invoked by formalist critics of the period as a pejorative term. Characteristics understood to be held in common across these diverse international tendencies included calling attention to the specific character of contemporary life, the attempted eradication of the line of demarcation between art and everyday experience, and the conviction that the art event or object was but an initiator of interactive experience, that is to say, that it was the receiver, and not the maker, who finished a piece. Most contemporary critics were in agreement that North American practitioners of the new art were attempting to challenge the then-in place, undisputed hegemony of Abstract Expressionism, or more precisely, of academic abstraction; few, if any, understood that a number of these so-called "neo-Dadaists" understood themselves to be successors to a subversive counter-culture initiated in opposition to the McCarthyist 1950s. Although both Fluxus and NO! can be counted among this sub-set of neo-Dada, the two more or less contemporaneous artistic counter-cultures responded to their historical "post- neo-fascist" context very differently. Within the last decade, Fluxus successfully captured the imagination of our own present. The movement was accepted back into the fold, so to speak, and is now credited as a direct precursor to contemporary video, correspondence and performance art, among other intermedial artistic practices. To date, NO! remains positioned on the margins of art historical discourse.

Although participants in Fluxus were by no means averse to taking occasional forays into the political arena, for the most part, the collective was committed to humbling art, subordinating its hierarchical values to everyday life, and challenging the myth of artistic privilege; their weapons of choice were the cerebral, the "anesthetic," and humor. As such, Fluxus was indeed a forerunner of the great divide between Abstract Expressionism and what is now defined as the conceptual and intermedial arts. Conversely, the assemblages, photomontages, constructions and events realized by card-carrying members of NO! responded to many of the same prerequisite utopian convictions that had informed the production of the most radical members of the Abstract Expressionist circle. Interestingly, these defining principles (belief in art's ability to transmit raw and unmediated direct experience, the liberation of the individual, and an uncompromising hostility toward the oppression of modernist institutions) are not commonly addressed in formalist narrative histories that laud the "triumph" of mid-twentieth-century American painting. Instead, they mirror Harold Rosenberg's thesis, as voiced in "The American Action Painters."

On the other hand, because NO! was transparently political, its members escaped the Abstract Expressionists' unresolved struggle with the crisis of meaning. Wart's messages were meant to be "read" as political critique; the collective's collaborative events were intended to induce direct and unmitigatedly savage experience of the unspeakable. As Seymour Krim insisted in his contribution to NO!art: Pin-ups, Excrement, Protest, Jew Art, Wart's calculated extremism was a "brutal effort to cope with a brutish environment [intended to strike the receiver] like a rock hurled through a synagogue window." The collective's weapons of choice were a belief in art's ability to participate in cultural transformation, massmedia reifications of suburban affluence, politically incorrect sex, nuclear devastation, and genocide. The NO!artists are insistent that the collective did not distinguish among the massmarketing of women, the Cuban missile crisis, political assassinations in the Congo, civil rights battles in the South, the carnage of Hiroshima, and the Nazi-induced destruction of European Jewry. It is to their response to what we have since come to call the "Holocaust," however, that we must look when attempting to track their continued marginalization.

As NO!art's "designated" North American historiographer, I would not have been able to even begin to address the latter were it not for Hannah Arendt's reportage of the Adolf Eichmann trial in the spring of 1961, or more specifically, for the animated controversy initiated by the subsequent English-language publication of her observations as these simultaneously appeared in print, some two years later, under the title, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality o f Evil, and as five issues of The New Yorker (February through March, 1963). The Eichmann trial and the publication and reception of Arendt’s reportage are often cited as an important turning point in the historiographic construction of the term "the Holocaust," and as important media events that contributed to the rubric's lightning-speed ascendancy as the descriptive term of choice for the historical, Nazi-induced destruction of European Jewish culture. What is rarely taken into account is the fact that two years had passed between the trial and the aforecited publication events.

Upon my rereading of Arendt’s New Yorker essays, I was struck by the uncanny parallel between her observation concerning Eichmann's unnerving dismissal of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita as an "unwholesome" book and Boris Lurie's iconic 1962 photomontage on canvas of the same title. I was also taken aback by the realization that, in much the same way that Arendt had singled out Judge Landau's "rare moment of exasperation" while asking the accused "What can you remember?," Sam Goodman had chosen to title his 1961 triptych/ assemblage, Eichmann Remember. Furthermore, I was deeply excited by the realization that the completion of these two works purportedly took place within the years that separated the trial from the North American publication of Arendt’s reportage and thus prior to (or at very least, in the very forefront of) the preliminary lifting of a long-in-place cultural taboo about public discussion of Nazi genocide. For some years, I had used Lurie's Lolita and Goodman's Eichmann Remember to initiate dialogue among my graduate students, many of whom could be counted as members of what Tim Cole (author of Selling the Holocaust: From Auschwitz to Schindler, How History is Bought, Packaged, and Sold) calls the "Schindler generation." Inevitably, Goodman's assemblage fit within what seminar participants understood to be an "acceptable" (albeit radical and deeply troubling) artistic response to carnage. Conversely, Lurie's canvas was repeatedly read as offensive. Having been programmed by streamlined and simplistic mass-media representations of the Holocaust, on the one hand, and by a far more intellectually stimulating feminist art historical literature, on the other, my students were less offended by the photomontage's reification of genocidal slaughter than by its objectification of the feminine other. While it could be argued that my students' reception of these two contemporaneous artistic responses to the Eichmann trial serve to confirm our assumptions about a division between representations of the Holocaust by those with direct experience of the event and those without (Goodman had spent the war years in the film branch of the Canadian army, whereas Lurie had survived the camps), it is not that simple. Both artists were very real players in the New York artworld and as such, both had fallen heir to Harold Rosenberg's 1952 proposition that true innovation in the arts required that representation be abandoned in favor of enactment. Furthermore, at the time of their completion, both works were considered to be equally inappropriate. These historical enactments were realized during the time lag between the Eichmann trial and the preliminary emergence of what Tim Cole argues has since become the central community myth of the "Holocaust." The following essay attempts to chart the historiographic agendas that guaranteed NO!art's initial relegation to the margins of art historical discourse and the collective's resultant exclusion from the now raging battle surrounding the banality of our own present's programmed expectations.

A number of telling artworld events have taken place since I was first introduced to NO!. In 1995, the Neue Gesellschaft fur Bildende Kunst, the Haus am Kleistpark, and End-art gallery in Berlin mounted exhibitions on Boris Lurie and NO!art in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War and as part of their contribution to the then already volatile discourse across Germany surrounding the proposed Berlin Holocaust Memorial. I am grateful to Eckhart Holzboog, Katharina Kaiser, Dietmar Kirves, Matthias Reichelt, and Klaus Theurerkauf, all of whom were involved in these events and who shared their resources with me. I would also like to acknowledge Dr. Volkhart Knigge, Director of the Buchenwald Memorial in Weimar, and Dr. Sonja Star, Exhibition Coordinator at Buchenwald, who, in 1999, mounted a retrospective Boris Lurie exhibition in the "Desinfektion cellar" of the last of a series of Nazi concentration and labor camps in which Lurie had been incarcerated as an adolescent. Lurie's Buchenwald retrospective was very deliberately mounted as a commemoration of one of the darkest moments in Weimar's past at the very point in time when the city was again to be celebrated as a venerated seat of European culture. Boris has pointed out to me that the "Goethe oak tree," under which the poet is said to have composed some of his works, still thrives inside the camp grounds. I am particularly grateful to Matthias Reichelt and Curt Germundson who noted that, even in Germany, Lurie did not conform to the public's expectations of the "traditional victim," and who shared exhibition visitors' comments in the Buchenwald Memorial guest book that confirmed the extent to which this was true.

Between 1997 and 2001, the Janos Gat Gallery, on Madison Avenue in New York, hosted a select number of masterfully mounted, small NO!art and NO! related exhibitions. I wish to acknowledge Janos' support of my own endeavor, particularly during its more volatile planning stages. For the most part, however, NO! has continued to be excluded from mainstream, North American artworld events. For example, despite the collective's direct affiliation with the Beats, NO!art was visibly absent from the Whitney Museum of American Art's 1995-96, broadly inclusive exhibition, Beat Culture and the New America: 1950-1965, curated by Lisa Phillips. Reference to NO! was also not made in Paul Shimmel's masterful out o f Actions: Between Performance and the Object, 1949-1979 (The Geffen Contemporary at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 1998). Perhaps even more tellingly, despite the artist's direct involvement in NO!art in the early 1960s, all reference to the collective has been erased from Yayoi Kusama's chronology, bibliography, and 1998-99 retrospective exhibition, organized jointly by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Japan Foundation, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

I am grateful to David Mickenberg, Director of Northwestern University's Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art and to his expert staff. In September of 1993, Fluxus: A Conceptual Country traveled to what was then the Block Gallery where it became an active participant in the weeklong, Fluxus Festival Chicago, jointly hosted by Northwestern, Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art and the School of the Art Institute. It is particularly fitting, then, that the new Block Museum of Art should host Wart's preliminary North American resurrection. I wish to acknowledge the substantial contributions to this undertaking made by Professor Rainer Rumold, Northwestern University's Department of German Literature and Critical Thought, and Editor of Northwestern University Press' Avant-garde and Modernism Studies series. Rainer has actively supported this project for some years based on his stated belief in Wart's "unique tenacity as an avant-garde phenomenon" and his conviction that these works from the late 1950s and early 1960s confront our own present with "a unique set of tough- albeit potentially objectionable- critical issues about the representability of genocide and the limits of resisting the commodification of aesthetic production." I would also like to thank the National Endowment for the Arts for its long-standing support of this project. I am particularly grateful to the Endowment for its acknowledgment, during the granting process, that the subject was one that had definitely not received the attention it was due, and its projection that, if successful, this exhibition and its accompanying publications would definitely make a significant contribution to scholarship in the area.

I wish to thank Dore Ashton, Allan Kaprow, Michelle Stuart, (the late) Wolf Vostell, Stella Waitzkin and a host of other artworld insiders for spending long hours sharing their first-hand experiences of NO!art with me. I also wish to acknowledge contributions to this project by Brett Van Hoesen, my editorial assistant, Julia Mears and Patrick Ingram, two Iowa City-based Attorneys at Law who have followed the realization of this endeavor with much care and personal attention, Rabbi Jeffrey Portman of Iowa City's Agudas Achim Congregation and Gerald Sorokin, Director of the Abner Hillel Jewish Student Center, whose very deliberate joint invitation to introduce NO!art to their constituencies during a recent Holocaust commemoration initiated my authorship of the second segment of the essay that follows. Finally, I wish to extend my sincere gratitude to Boris Lurie and Gertrude Stein for, perhaps inadvertently, forcing me to confront some of my own long suppressed demons.

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SYMPOSIUM:

Pick / Laudati Auditorium # Free and open to the public
Opening Remarks
Estera Milman, Curator of the Exhibition and Director of Alternative Traditions
in the Contemporary Arts, The University of Iowa

Writing of the Disaster
Dore Ashton, Professor, Department of Art History, The Cooper Union

Boris Lurie: Self-Representation in the Wake of the Holocaust
Susan Chevlowe, Associate Curator, The Jewish Museum, New York

NO! and the Cultural Politics of the Anti-Canon
Estera Milman

Doom: Art Culture, Cognitive Space, and the Achievement of Discourse
Stephen Foster, Professor Emeritus, School of Art and Art History, The University of Iowa

Adolf Eichmann and Artistic Debates in Germany: The Broader Context for NOlart
Paul Jaskot, Associate Professor, Department of Art and Art History, DePaul University

The Reception of the Art of Boris Lurie and NO!art
in the Context of the Holocaust Debate in Contemporary Germany

Curt Germundson, Assistant Professor, Art Department, Minnesota State University

CONVERSATION
Pick / Michigan Room, Norris University Center

Women Behind the Barricades: Art, Protest and Gender in the Post-McCarthy Era
Harriet Wood, NOIart artist, Dore Ashton, art critic and historian, and Gertrude Stein,
whose gallery was a primary site for NO!art exhibitions, will discuss their experiences as part
of the NO!art artist-activist movement and as women in the art world of the period.

Harriet Wood (Suzan Long), Independent Artist
Gertrude Stein, Gallery Gertrude Stein, New York
Dore Ashton, Professor, Department of Art History, The Cooper Union
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NO!art and the Aesthetics of Doom | REVIEW By FRED CAMPER

Published in: CHICAGO READER, January 4, 2002

I was startled to see that the centerpiece of this show is a half dozen pieces that are quite literally "Holocaust pom" - my pet term for art that would deserve trashing. But these searingly original works are part of what makes this one of the best exhibits of 2001.

NO!art was a pointedly confrontational New York movement that came together around 1959. Since these artists' work was political at a time - when high art was not supposed to be, and since part of the groups intent was to attack the market-oriented art world, rejection by that world should not have come as a big surprise. But their exclusion from subsequent histories - the three founders were nowhere to be found in the Whitney Museum of American Art's survey of the beat movement a few years back - its outrageous, particularly considering how prescient much of the work seems today. Curator Estera Milman hoped to rectify that omission by organizing this traveling show for Northwestern's Block Museum, which initiates it.

NO!art was raw, aggressive, even "ugly"; by contrast Rauschenberg and Lichtenstein, critic Harold Rosenberg wrote in 1974, were "housetrained kittens." Haunted by the Holocaust in the past and fear of the bomb in the present, these artists sought to jar viewers out of complacency. Only one of the three founders is alive today. Boris Lurie was exhibiting in co-op galleries on East Tenth-Street, he told me, when artists Sam Goodman and Stanley Fisher approached him because they liked his work. The trio (all of them Jewish) began exhibiting together along with other artists, taking their name from a caricature of their work that appeared in ARTnews.

Many 20th-century movements broke with convention, but the NO!artists went further than most. Unlike abstract expressionism (which they admired) and pop art (which they did not), their work was not easily assimilated. Most of the 55 pieces on view at the Block Museum would be unimaginable even today in a corporate lobby or shopping mall, locations in which many 20th-century styles are now quite at home. Writing in 1970, Lurie noted with some bitterness that "our acts if noticed at all were rewarded with deathly silence," while "market oriented pop-art and decorative hardedged abstraction" became "a fitting background for Park Avenue cocktail parties" - something that will probably never happen with Lurie´s montages of girlie photos and images of emaciated Holocaust survivors or corpses. (NO!art: Pin-ups, Excrement, Protest, Jew-Art, available for perusal in the gallery, contains a number of such statements by the artists.)

The history of antiart movements is a history of artists who reject the aesthetic only to have it reemerge, as in John Cage's hauntingly beautiful music and Marcel Duchamp's great final piece. By contrast, while much NO!art is visually powerful and expressive, its imagery often repels. Goodman´s Shopping Bag (1962) consists of a metal shopping cart full of cigarette, milk, soap, and beer package - all of which, including the cart, have been flattened and hung on the wall like a painting. One thinks of a shopping trip that ended in disaster, but Goodman might also be referring to critic Clement Greenberg's famous assertion that abstract expressionist paintings were about the flatness of their own surfaces. Goodman, however, equates the transformation of real-life objects into a hangable "picture" with catastrophe.

Fisher´s cluttered Sex is a sprawling painting with collaged photos dominated by thick reds and browns. (Its spray paint and chaotic look suggest graffiti art, one of several developments NO!art anticipated.) Though the wild jumble of forms recalls abstract expressionism, the effect is very different: instead of Pollock's lyrical line, Sex offers a choked and mottled maze; instead of Rothko's transparent colors, it´s muddy and forbidding. At the center is a pair of eyes, adding to the pieces assaultive, confrontational quality. Indeed, much of this work registers as a call to action - though these artists admitted they had no solutions.

Some of the NO!artists´ preoccupations are better understood in their historical context. The many sexual references, from nudes to the title written in biz letters across Sex are efforts to subvert the sexual repression of the time. In a 1961 statement, Fisher compared art to love: "Both are meaningful only insofar as the involvement is passion. " (Highly active sexually, Fisher in the late 60s lived with a group that included several girlfriends, Lurie told me.) Fisher also made the statement, in 1960, that "the earth is a line-drive single to the slaughterhouse" - and the threat of global thermonuclear annihilation gave much of this work its urgency. An untitled 1964 work by Fisher arguably reflects street life far better than any sanitized pop painting: prominent amid an aggressive clutter of genitalia, breasts, and paint is a gas mask, while Christmas-tree lights around the edges ironically reference mass-culture showmanship.

A number of works critique our consumerist culture's celebration of objects. ln an untitled 1964 piece, Wolf Vostell painted over the front and back of a Life magazine, leaving visible only a soldier's head from the cover and a hand holding a soft drink container from the back-page ad, equating selling magazines by exploiting a photo of a wounded soldier with selling soft drinks. In Lady Woolworth (1963) Lil Picard constructs a woman partly out of lipstick tubes, anticipating feminist art by some years in a vary comment on the way women are encouraged to define themselves.

Goodman and Lurie collaborated on a number of pieces, all entitled Shit Sculpture (four are on view here), for the groups 1964 "NO!-sculpture show." Goodman called this effort "my final gesture after 30 years in the art world. This is what I think of it" - and this realistic mounds of painted plaster do undermine the idea of art as a beautiful, desirable commodity. I didn't exactly enjoy looking at them - like much of NO!art they're partly meant to provoke revulsion. But their very harshness, their sense of rupture, causes one to reevaluate one´s expectations of art.
Chaos informs much NO!art. With its mix of news articles and female nudes, Lurie´s dense collage painting Lumumba is Dead (1961) is so disunified that the viewer is forced to confront each fragment separately.

The piece also includes swastikas both large and small, and many of Lurie´s (and Goodman´s) pieces make even more explicit references to the Shoah. Immigrant´s NO-Box (1963) is a rough wooden container that suggests a shipping trunk; an image of an emaciated camp survivor appears on the side and top, and the top also incorporates small, titillating photos of women fighting each other. Two of Lurie's pieces consists of retiteled found photos: he calls another reproduction of the emaciated man on the wooden box From a Happening. 1945 by Adolf Hitler (1963) and an image of a mound of corpses on a train Flatcar Assemblage, 1945 by Adolf Hitler (1963).

Living in Latvia at the outset of World War II, Lurie was sent to Nazi concentration camps, Buchenwald among them. He and his father were the family's only survivors. At the time he began using such imagery, he says, "there was a silent prohibition against anything connected with the Holocaust in the so-called legitimate art world."

Even more troubling are two photographic collages in which Lurie combines images of victims with pinup girls, Buchenwald (circa 1963) and Railroad Collage (1963). By 1963 Lurie had been using pinups for some years, having initially collected them for his pleasure: "Sexual mores were very strong, and it was very hard for a young fellow, especially if he didn't have any money, to get girls," he says. At the same time, earner erotic images were constantly used to advertise products. These works unite very different meanings - they're both erotic and commodifying - but the addition of Holocaust imagery complicates things even more.

Railroad Collage shows a pile of corpses with a cutout nude, seen from the rear dropping her panties. There´s a kind of push-pull effect the light colored living flesh beckon, the corpses repel, and the combination violates our sense of decency and respect for the dead. This piece too anticipates the work of artists interested in the work of artists interested in the Holocaust - Claude Lanzmann´s documentary Shoah, for example, and the exquisitely, poetic Monuments of Christian Boltanski, but in contrast to those refined, sacramental treatments, Lurie´s pieces scream for attention, with the goal of bringing the viewer to life's terrible contradictions.

Shocking enough that they ultimately clude aesthetic judgment, Railroad Collage and Buchenwald attain something that avant-garde artists have long sought but rarely achieved they seem to spin a void around meaning, in part because their obvious interpretation - that Hitler was some kind of artist whose victims were like pinup girls - is so distant from the current sanctifying of the Shoah.

Yet Lurie has said, "Eichmann is in you, too," which means he must recognize the murderer in himself. His work implies that all the categories which make, such as art genres - all the images and objects we collect for our pleasure - are akin to Hitler "collecting" corpses. This is a far more troubling view than the now conventional notion of the Shoah as something apart, a view that confirms on moral superiority and denies any new for change. Lurie asks instead that confront the demons in ourselves and in our culture.

Fred Camper is a writer and lecturer on art, film, and photography, whose writing appears regularly in the Chicago Reader. For more information and examples of his writing, go to his Web site, where he has also posted a really long "short" |  biography.
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