"NO!art and the Aesthetics of Doom," the first North American retrospective exhibition devoted to the NO!art collective, will be on display at the University of Iowa Museum of Art April 27 June 23.
Admission to the museum and to the exhibition will be free.
The NO!art collective was active in the late 1950's and early 1960's in New Yorks Tenth Street Galleries and the Galley Gertrude Stein. The artists responded to the Holocaust, the atomic crisis, and conformist, commercially-driven culture.
Curated by Estera Milman, director of alternative traditions in the contemporary arts at the University of Iowa, "NO!art and the Aesthetics of Doom," and its accompanying catalogue, features some of the collectives most important works relating to these events and includes a cross-section of collages, assemblages, and installations.
Members of the NO!art collective, originally the March Gallery, supported street art, graffiti, Beat poetry, and what they described as “violent expressionism.” Their works draw on commercial images, pin-up nudes, and photographs of war atrocities, and were created in direct response to the contradiction between postwar consumer culture and the horror of the resent past.
The exhibition is known for its confrontational works in which political and social protest are critically linked to the development of assemblage art and Happenings. By reasserting the key influence of the collective's political, activist artists, the exhibition challenges traditional views of the New York art world in the early 1960's as apolitical.
While NO!art artists were described as the new “Social Realists” by some contemporary critics, the collective has been largely ignored by the North American art-historical canon.
The exhibition includes works by the NO!art collective founders, Boris Lurie, a Buchenwald survivor, Sam Goodman and Stanley Fisher, and also from travellers in the movement, Allan D'Arcangelo, Herb Brown, Dorothy Gillespie, Allan Kaprow, Yayoi Kusama, Suzan Long, Jean-Jacques Lebel, Lil Picard, and Wolf Vostell.
In addition to a brief catalogue, an anthology of scholarly papers on NO!art will be published by the Northwestern University Press. Milman will serve as a contributing author and guest editor.
"NO!art and the Aesthetics of Doom" is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency, the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, and the Friends of the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art.
M.C. Ginsberg Objects of Art, Inc. of Iowa City is the corporate sponsor for public events at the UI Museum of Art during the 2001-02 season, through the University of Iowa Foundation.
The University of Iowa Museum of Art is located on the North Riverside Drive in Iowa City. Museum hours are Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday noon-5 p.m, and Thursday and Friday noon-10 p.m. Admission is free. Public metered parking is available in the UI parking lots across from the museum on Riverside Drive and just north of the museum.
The first thing that strikes you upon entering “’NO!art and the Aesthetics of Doom," at the University of lowa Art Museum is the extreme ugliness of most of the pieces.
We expect art to be beautiful, graceful, uplifting. This stuff is hard to look at. It is shocking; shabbily constructed. Some works are disgusting or obscene. The works probably are not appropriate viewing for children.
The show is repulsive, yet it is artwork driven by high ideals and a deep sense of moral outrage.
The exhibition brings together work by an obscure group of artists who exhibited together in New York City between 1959 and 1964. These years bring to mind images of a more innocent time, but beneath the period's veneer of normality was an undercurrent of insecurity, dread and impending doom. It was an era of racial unrest, of anti-Communist hysteria, under the constant threat of nuclear annihilation.
“NO!art” brought glaringly into the light this dark underside of the era, throwing it into relief and challenging its audience to question the morality of business as usual.
The group was founded by Boris Lurie, a survivor of Buchenwald, a Nazi slave labor and extermination camp.
At first glance, his “NOSuitcase" of 1963 is a shabby valise covered with the kinds of stickers travelers gather. On careful examination, the souvenirs are unusual and disturbing: a Jewish Star of David, a swastika, a picture of a porno queen and a pile of skeletal remains from the death camps. The suitcase suggests years of use, perpetual exile and the uneasy feeling of being forever an unwelcome stranger.
The lurid and utterly tasteless porno shots - gathered, I imagine, from cheap magazines - are particularly offensive but play an important role in what are, paradoxically, the most moving pieces in the show. In “Saturation Painting” a photograph of a inmates from Buchenwald concentration camp lined up at the barbed wire, is juxtaposed with "girlie" snap shots. Even though the porno is tame compared with today's fare, the message is clear: Pornography is the “holocaust” of women - as obscene as the death camps.
In “The Cross (The Bomb)” by Sam Goodman, a bomb and pieces of a model airplane with a partially melted and blackened plastic doll make up a grotesque crucifix. The intent is not to offend Christians, but to show how offensive the nuclear arms race wars. It was if Christ were about to be crucified as anew as the world seemed headed for an nuclear Armageddon. It calls forth a sense of righteous moral indignation.
The work rings with new reverberation in the wake of the attack of Sept. 11 as we are once again threatened by the obscenity of terror and with feelings of helplessness and doom.
As ugly as this art is, it is not nearly as ugly as terror and as such is a more eloquent statement on the human condition than any of the beautiful abstract paintings of the period.