We’ve painted the entire gallery black, like the basement apartments where Boris Lurie chose to live–and the studios where he created his Art. From 1946, when he arrived in New York from Buchenwald, until his death in 2008, he lived and worked in these tombs, never leaving during daylight hours. Why? Because, he said, that’s when bad things happened in the camps where he spent his youth, fighting to stay alive, between 1941 and 1945.
If you open your eyes and your mind,
you’ll see why Boris Lurie’s ‘Jew art’ is like
no Art you’ve ever seen before.
That’s not hyperbole.
“When co-founding the NO!art group, Lurie, Goodman and Fisher minced no words: as an affront to Cold War American silence about the Holocaust, the continued contemporary anti-Semitism as well as pervasive U.S. racism, (they) characterized their art “Jew art,” adopting the very term the Nazis had used to denigrate Jewish art as inferior and “degenerate” and protested that anti-Semitism was well and alive in post World War II societies.
“All three adopted and further developed art processes expressive of the destruction and discontinuity, collage and assemblage, as well as Happenings (Sam Goodman) and resorted to a form of realism derived at through the imported visual fragments of advertisements and other mass media reproduction.”
Excerpt from BORIS LURIE: Countering Evil by Dorothea Dietrich (from the exhibition catalogue)
His Altered Portraits of Henry Cabot Lodge, the US ambassador to South Vietnam in 1963, said NO! to the War in Vietnam.
His pinups said NO! to the misogyny he saw in postwar America.
His collages said NO! to a consumer society that cared more about corporations than consumers.
His Adieu Amerique paintings said NO! to a country that would assassinate foreign leaders and support corrupt dictatorships in the name of freedom and democracy.
Hitler, Eichmann, Goebbels and the rest, made a terrible mistake. They failed to eliminate a brilliant and talented young Jew who would dedicate the rest of his life to creating a visual record of the atrocities they committed, the innocents they slaughtered and of the enduring emotional and psychological suffering they inflicted on those who survived.
Because of who he was, what he believed in, and, perhaps, for other reasons we shall never fully understand, at the time of his death in 2008, Boris Lurie had in his possession virtually every artwork he had created since he arrived in New York from Buchenwald in 1946.
The New York Times did publish an obituary a few days after he died and there were still a few in 2008 who remembered that Lurie and his NO!art movement had defined radical, as opposed to radical chic, art for a time in the early 1960s. Some of those few would have remembered what they knew of his art with admiration. Most of those few would have remembered that piece Tom Wolfe wrote in the old Herald Tribune about The NO! Sculpture Show at Gertrude Stein’s gallery (we can laugh about it now but it wasn’t so funny then). The scuplture turned out to be plastic…shit!
Boris Lurie courted the controversy his political art created. He didn’t seem to care who he offended. Nor did he apparently care that the controversy often overshadowed the art itself—and the recognition it might otherwise have received. He even openly criticized the gallery owners, collectors, critics—and especially the MoMA curators—who might have been his champions, had he been willing to play their game. Lots of others did. But he, of course, would not.
So, in 1961, when he painted a big swastika representing the United States, not Nazi Germany, at the center of his masterpiece, Lumumba Is Dead (Adieu Amerique) or in 1963, when he juxtaposed the half-naked derriere of a pinup girl over a photograph of a railroad car full of bodies recently gassed in the ovens at Auschwitz, who was going to defend him?
Yet much of what was outrageous then, seems prescient now. We’re still dealing with racial and religious prejudice at the top; we’re still assassinating foreign leaders because we don’t like them; we’re still invading countries and spending trillions of dollars on wars at the periphery but seem incapable of defending our elections here at home; and the pinups seem, well, rather quaint.
Most of the artwork in the Lurie Archive has never been shown in the United States. So it’s not hyperbole to say the ‘Jew art’ you’ll see at CCPArt is like no art you’ve seen before.
Really. That’s a fact.
Now housed in an art storage facility in New Jersey, the Lurie Archive of more than 2,500 artworks, from which this exhibition is drawn, is his legacy. It is a largely unknown, barely examined, yet visually rich, apolitical encyclopedia, detailing the horrors the politicization of racial and religious prejudice, ascending, has in store for all of us if we do not act decisively, now, today, to reject and stamp it out.
At a time when white supremacists are no longer hiding in the shadows, and racist and anti-Semitic acts of violence are increasing at an alarming rate in the United States and in Europe, we hope BORIS LURIE IN AMERICA: He had the courage to say NO! will result in the Lurie Archive finally being seen for what it is: a treasure waiting to be discovered by those who believe, as Lurie did, that future genocides—against Jews, blacks, Muslims or whomever the Other happens to be—will never be prevented if the world is allowed to forget what happened to Europe’s Jews between 1941 and 1945.
There is nothing tame about Lurie’s art. It is meant to shock, to outrage and, ultimately, to inspire those who agree with it (or are persuaded by it), to take action. It is powerful because it is by the hand, and from the heart, of a 20th Century master.
Who had the courage to say NO! half a century ahead of his time.
THE CENTER FOR CONTEMPORARY POLITICAL ART
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