The works of Boris Lurie have the power to shock.
Many were created more than fifty years ago, but have lost none of their potential to rattle cages, to polarise opinion and to test the boundaries of tolerability.
Boris Lurie’s comprehensive and controversial works will be presented in the NS Documentation Centre in Cologne as of 27 August 2014.
The exhibition – developed in cooperation with the Boris Lurie Foundation in New York and under the curatorial direction of gallery owner Gertrude Stein – features the first impressive works created directly after Lurie’s release from Buchenwald concentration camp, as well as works from the 1940s and 1950s that have never been seen in Europe before. A selection of his impressive sculptural works from the 1970s will also be presented for the first time in the basement.
The profoundly human existentialism and peculiarly European characteristics that inform his works – and, not least, his aggressively political outlook – made Lurie something of an outsider in a New York art world in thrall to abstract expressionism and pop art, a state of affairs that endured until his death in 2008.
Born in Riga in 1924 to a wealthy Jewish middle-class family, the artist experienced the catastrophes and upheavals of the 20th century at first hand.
Together with his father, he survived the Stutthof and Buchenwald concentration camps. His mother, grandmother, younger sister and childhood sweetheart were all murdered in the Massacre of Rumbula, near Riga, in 1941.
Lurie described himself as a privileged concentration camp survivor who quickly gained a foothold as a translator in post-war Germany, emigrating to New York with his father in 1946, where he lived and worked for the rest of his days. He never played the victim: the horrors that he experienced were never worn on his sleeve in the artistic circles that he sought out in New York. However, he formulated his resistance to the powerlessness and violence that descended upon and dominated his life during his formative years with a decisive NO.
The NO!art group of artists that he co-founded in 1958 stood in sharp contrast to abstract expressionism and pop art. Imperialism, racism, sexism, rampant consumerism and the nuclear threat were the themes explored by the artist group, who were only together for a few years.
Describing the difficult and frequently ignored position of the polemical group in a later interview, Lurie said: “Back then, art always had to be indirect – we were too subjective and too political”.
In addition to numerous poems in Baltic German, Boris Lurie wrote novels and stories. Some of the manuscripts, photos and original documents can also be seen at the exhibition.
Friday August 29, 2014 at 4 pm, and Friday October 24, 2014 at 4 pm
Image analysis | Psychological analysis of artworks by Dr. Hans-Christian Heiling
Venue: NS Documentation Centre (EL-DE-Haus) | Meeting point: Museum ticket desk | Admission: free
Sunday September 7, 2014 at 2 pm, and Sunday October 19, 2014 at 2 pm
Shoah and Pin-ups | Documentary about Boris Lurie by Reinhild Dettmer-Finke, Matthias Reichelt
Germany 2006 | 88 min | followed by a guided tour of the exhibition with Heike Rentrop
Venue: NS Documentation Centre (EL-DE-Haus) | Meeting point: Museum ticket desk | Admission: €10
Monday September 15, 2014 at 6 pm
Exclusiv | for members of EL-DE-Haus e.V.
Tour of the special exhibition with Heike Rentrop
Venue: NS Documentation Centre (EL-DE-Haus) | Meeting point: Museum ticket desk | Admission: free
Saturday September 27, 2014 at 6 pm
Die lange Boris-Lurie-Filmnacht
"Shoah and PIN-UPS" + "We were there" – Riga Ghetto
Venue: Filmhauskino, Maybachstr. 111, 50670 Cologne | Admission for both films €9 | €7.50 (reduced)
Admission for individual films €6.50 | €5 (reduced)
Sunday October 5, 2014 at 2 pm and Sunday November 2, 2014 at 2 pm
Guided Tour of the special exhibition with Heike Rentrop
Venue: NS Documentation Centre (EL-DE-Haus) | Meeting point: Museum ticket desk | Admission: €6
Thursday October 30, 2014 at 7 pm
Boris Lurie: NO!art | Lecture by Heike Rentrop
Venue: NS Documentation Centre (EL-DE-Haus) | Meeting point: Museum ticket desk
Admission: €4.50 | €2 (reduced)
Born in Riga 1924 into a Jewish bourgeois family, the artist and author Boris Lurie, together with his father, survived the concentration camps ► Stutthof and Buchenwald. Starting August 27 the NS-Documentation Center of the City of Cologne will show the works of the eternal Outsider.
YEARNING FOR EUROPE
When I first saw ► Boris Lurie in the twilight of a hallway in Manhattan, I almost immediately recognized his yearning for Europe. It was in October 1996. The aim and reason for my trip was to make a film about Lurie, which resulted in a long friendship and the film that I showed recently in a remote place in Estremadura, almost precisely halfway between Madrid and Lisbon. In ► Museo Vostell in Malpartida de Cáceres, Spain.
There, in cooperation with New York Boris Lurie Art Foundation, the first European show of NO!art artist after his death (2008) took place. It was a wise decision to have this site for the show. Surrounded by probably the world’s largest private Fluxus collection, on a permanent loan to the museum from the Italian Gino di Maggio, the Boris Lurie oeuvre had been buoyed up in the focus of the Art Discourse.
VIOLENCE AS CONCEPT
Wolf Vostell had insistently drawn my attention to Lurie’s disturbing images: KZ-Prisoners waiting for their liberation. Ghostly beings between hope for life and final destruction. Ornamented with Pin-up-Girls in explicit positions. The beautiful and the naked, the gassed and the escaped became the main theme for Lurie, the survivor of a subcamp of Buchenwald. Balancing on the knife’s edge of voyeuristic lust and pure horror.
POEMS EDITED IN STUTTGART
The point of departure for my film about Lurie’s Art was 1946, when Lurie, as it was predetermined by the Nazis, reached New York, his willy-nilly adopted home. Everything turned out the way I had expected; through art life narrates as if it were life itself speaking. A film is about the Schoah survivor, and the Schoah, the Holocaust was all over the place. Entering his 66th Street atelier/apartment, one could realize Lurie had never mentally left the KZ. The same echoes in his wondrous texts, composed in his native ► Baltic German. His poetry, a tragic mix of laughter and howl, was put out in 2003 by Stuttgarter Eckhart-Holzboog publishing house.
COUNTERWORLD TO POP
For Boris Lurie, born 1924 in Leningrad and grown up in Riga, visual Art was substantially his own experience. His work is political, it reaches far beyond the Schoah to America of the Vietnam war, the Caribbean crisis, the Cold War and positions itself as an assault on “good taste,” an attack on the rigged rules in politics, art and society.
It was also the agenda of the NO!art movement, co-founded and essentially shaped by Lurie as a riposte to Pop-art. He was, so to speak, their Andy Warhol. Lurie as he formulates it in the film, sees Pop-art as a glorification of the American consumerism leaning towards chauvinism. He does not recognize social criticism in Pop-art.
Artistically and esthetically, Lurie, who after 1950 discovered collage for his own use, stands close to the roughness of Fluxus artists, whose life and work can be explored in Stuttgarter Staatsgalerie: including ► Jean-Jacques Lebel, a French artist with whom Lurie occasionally collaborated in New York. But most notable is ► Wolf Vostell: the most political of all the Fluxist who maintained a life-long friendship with Lurie, based on their common feelings about Schoah.
How close this “Jewish” elective affinity was, will be revealed at the film show on July 3rd 2014 in the Museum, first found by Vostell and his wife Mercedes as a private collection and now operated by Extremadura Province. In my film I juxtapose the ► Lurie film shot in New York in 1996 to the Vorstell’s works Schwarze Zimmer [Black Room] and Schoah. Schwarze Zimmer was made in 1959. Commonplace things jammed together with the horrifying ones in one room. Searchlight, barbed wire, child toys. Pencil. Tattered clothing. Concrete. Everything unworthy of Art (at least at that time.) And the TV-set, the emblematic signature of Vorstell’s art. To see either image interferences—white noise like locusts’ buzzing—or the actual TV program of the respective location. As Vostell in this film states, when a documentary about Auschwitz is running on TV, then, there is Auschwitz also in Schwarze Zimmer.
The triptych Schoah came out in 1997. The concrete arrow dominates the picture, it dashes relentlessly over the people painted in Acrylic underneath. Cubist-looking figuration in Vostell’s manner strongly remind the giant Estremadura stone blocks. The last major work of the artists who newly rediscovered himself as a painter, dedicated to the Jews of Spain banished in 1492 and the European Jews killed by Nazi Germany.
The film has no text. Artist and filmmaker are in dialogue. It is about hard artistic set-out and the then commonly prevailed resentment of collectors, museums and the media taking a dim view of “torn paper and smashed tin”. The film was made on the occasion of the artists’ 65 anniversary. Obviously, the friends knew: Vostell was ill. A few months later he was dead.
LURIE ON THE OFFENSIVE
The Schwarze Zimmer can bee seen currently as part of the exhibit Beuys Brock Vostell at the Art and Media Technology Center in Karlsruhe. The painting Schoah is now in Museum Sefardi, formerly a synagogue in Toledo, the first stop of my trip before I got to Museo Vostell. Many of rarely shown works of Lurie are there to be discovered, such as Three Women, 1955 reminding Goya’s sinister phantoms. Particularly striking are his collages, the grim masterpieces of the art of memory, which does not whine, does not gabble and doesn’t retreat into a safe esthetic realm. Lurie attacks: those who were in denial as well as the perpetrators and their accomplices, who claim they had been unaware. Unfortunately some works are missing. First of all the large scale oil/collage paintings such as ► Lumumba is Dead, where Lurie squares up with Cold War. There might have been reasons in terms of conservation. However the missing pieces are presented in the catalog.
I also sorely miss the central work of Boris Lurie in this otherwise most praiseworthy exhibit: ► The Railroad Collage, sized 35x57 cm. One of those works, that time and again deeply affects survivors and their descendants. The one where a Pin-Up Lady pulls down her slip over her impressive rear: Lurie glued her image over the photo of wagon laden with corpses, as if she offers her body to the murdered.
To reproach Boris Lurie, whose mother and sister were killed by the Nazis, for denigrating the ones killed in KZ is as much understandable as it is false. Lurie is perfectly conscious about the conflicting nature of his art. To that effect he says in film that he would love to paint impressionistically which he knew quite well. But there have been always a compulsion to come to grips with the past and the present. “For me personally,” said Lurie, “the Pin-Ups stand for mass graves, as it was in Riga, where most of the killed by firing squad were women.” The Lurie’s erotically charged creative output should be, first and foremost, recognized as an allegory of triumphant life over the mass murder and genocide of history. And also as the utterly Janus-faced victory of love and drive.
What Lurie did not achieve, his pictures did: in the year of his 90th birthday they briefly went to Europe and before long found their way to their point of origin, Germany. In a modified format they reached their second station at the NS-Documentation Center of the City of Cologne. Undoubtedly a significant institution, well positioned in the network of museums attracting the public whose interests go far beyond art only. This kind of public, especially the young, is important. But it is still true, that the art, which transcends the occasion of its creation, deserves a place in a museum. That pertains to the art of Picasso as much as to that of Boris Lurie. Art is Art. Everything else is everything else.
* “Art is Art…” is actually a quotation from Ad Reinhardt with no credit to him. Here, taken from the English original, rather than back-translated from the German (translator’s note)
The establishment of the NS Documentation Centre of the City of Cologne is itself a typical example of the politics of memory in Germany. It could not have been established without citizen involvement, nor could it continue without this important element today. The history of the EL-DE House after 1945 and the development of the NS Documentation Centre are closely linked. The council of the City of Cologne decided on 13 December 1979 »to establish a documentation centre on the era of National Socialism in Cologne«. In addition, it was decided to renovate the basement of the EL-DE House, to establish an information site on the victims of National Socialism and to install a commemorative plaque on the outside wall of the EL-DE House (see page 18– 21). This was a visionary decision. The council realised that it would make little sense to establish a memorial site immediately due to the poor resources available – as a result of the war and the neglect thereafter – and insufficient knowledge that was available of the NS era at that time. In fact, a position in the Historical Archive of the City of Cologne was filled with Horst Matzerath, who later became the first director of the NS Documentation Centre, on 1 October 1980. Initially, he believed that it was his main task to build up a ‘compensatory documentation’ on the NS era in Cologne based on reviews of out-of-town and foreign archive collections.
But for many years there was no talk of a ‘centre’: For quite a long time the demand for establishment of a documentation centre was deemed satisfied due to the creation of this post and Matzerath’s subsequent appointment. In 1985 a group of committed citizens founded the initiative for the establishment of a NS documentation centre and organised demonstrations and other activities. This was again a decisive step forward. In early 1988 this initiative resulted in the Friends of the NS Documentation Centre association, the EL-DE House Association. In October 1985 the City’s culture committee decided that the expansion, or rather the establishment, of the NS Documentation Centre be reviewed. On 1 July 1986 two researchers and two further employees started their work on the memorial book on Jewish victims from Cologne, which had already started a few years earlier; another historian started his work on the topic of forced labour in 1987. All five of them were employed and paid under the job creation scheme, which was being widely implemented at that time. The final decision was taken on 11 June 1987 the city council finally decided, for the second time since 1979, to establish the NS Documentation Centre of the City of Cologne, this time however the centre was actually to be created. Two additional research positions as well as one position each for a librarian and a secretary were created. The position of a museum educator, which the City intended to create, was not filled; merely funds were provided for guided tours instead. This was a serious mistake that was only corrected in 2003 with the creation of a part-time position for a museum educator, which in 2008 finally became a full-time position.
On 19 September 1988, the staff of the EL-DE House moved into the premises – offices on the ground floor, a small library and a room for group work on the first floor. It took another nine years until – in June 1997 – the new permanent exhibition was opened, as the owners of the building refused implementation of the necessary conversion measures for a long time.
Quelle: ► http://www.museenkoeln.de/ns-dokumentationszentrum/pages/714.aspx?s=714 ► archives