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RESPONSE TO CLAYTON PATTERSON AND TO DAVID H. KATZ
By ESTERA MILMAN
Mail on March 1st, 2005
Although professional courtesy makes it impossible for me to author the solicited "letter to the editor," I would, nonetheless, like to thank Clayton for sharing David Katz's article and to offer the following "inhouse" response to his own well intentioned, albeit short sighted, attempts to "get [Boris Lurie] a little recognition in America," and to Katz's "Boris Lurie: Uneasy Visions, uncomfortable truths [sic]." First, I would like to remind Clayton that his use of the word "America" is somewhat less than politically correct, as such seasonal shifts in PC fashion go. Even loosely described, the Americas encompass (at very least) two continents; one in the Northern hemisphere, the other in the Southern. "North America" is composed of the United States and Canada. Despite the unabashed provincialism that has long informed the world view of many New Yorkers (including some Manhattanites of the counterculture persuation), truth is, the boundaries of the United States, in turn, are drawn with a brush somewhat broader than Greater New York City; even the location of the shifting epicenters of the US artworld are contested, from time to time. For example, sometimes there is LA, Chicago, or even Miami, Saint Louis, Houston, and/or Milwaukee (to cite but a few of many such undisputed power bases) to take into account. Furthermore (and perhaps more importantly) Lurie and Sam Goodman were very real players in the cultural politics of the early 1960s New York artworld and, believe it or not, received much more than "a little" recognition in "America," even within the discourse of the 1960s and 70s. Both of these two aforecited misperceptlons are evidenced in David Katz's uninformed and (perhaps, inadvertently) patronizing narrative. In reference to the latter, I am not here simply criticizing Katz's misspelling of Jackson Pollock's name or his ahistorical, sloppy reference to de Kooning (who, even by the late 1940s was already very much a pivotal figure in the so called, "Abstract Expressionist" circle, right alongside Pollock); far more serious (although perhaps less embarrassing for the author), is Katz's representation of NO!art as "visceral reaction to Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art." Leaving the relationship of NO! to Abstract Expressionism aside, there is little question but that, at the outset, NO! and Pop were parallel phenomena; it was not until Pop became the artworld's self proclaimed anointed successor to Abstract Expressionism that NO! assumed an oppositional (that is not to say "reactionary") stance. If, as Katz has done, you cut the historical legs out from under something, you marginalize it. Both Patterson and Katz are doing Lurie (and NO!) a great disservice by deliberately not building on things that preceded their own personal involvement and agendas, and by not honoring and respecting the very things they should be building on. As an aside, it is interesting to note that in 1961 de Kooning became the much lauded, paradigmatic progenitor of "assemblage," and that the broader subset "assemblage, environments, and Happenings" (within which NO! served as one important component) were all simultaneously discounted/marginalized by the New York artworld in the mid-sixties based on their then understood relationship to "old Europe." If Lurie had, in fact, singled out de Kooning by the mid-40s (as Katz suggests), I would sincerely like to know.
In all the mailings I have received that presented themselves as updates on Boris' health but in effect were vehicles to disseminate information about the group show at the Clayton Gallery & Outlaw Art Museum, I have not gleaned even the slightest acknowledgement of, or even nod to, the pivotal role the Gallery Gertrude Stein (New York) played during NO!art’s historical collective period or in the more recent past; nor have I noted even the whisper of a deserved credit line to the Janos Gat Gallery (Madison Avenue) which (as I understand it) generated the very prints Clayton is marketing and, not too long ago, successfully facilitated some very substantial "recognition" for Boris in Artforum. Having said that, I would like to move on to Milman.
Methodologically speaking, Katz's lengthy citations from his interview with Lurie are difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish from the author's own voice. (Incidentally, the Archives of American Art does not even make transcripts of interviews with living artists available, on site, to the general public without first allowing the artist being interviewed to review, modify and/or approve or reject the transcript. Since Katz's blurring of boundaries between his voice and Lurie's and his decontextualization of Boris's statements as these purportedly appeared on his notes/tapes are highly problematic, I would caution him to follow normal protocol prior to the appearance in print of his "more comprehensive interview" in the London-based Jewish Quarterly.) Embedded in Katz's narrative are propositions that are directly (albeit naively) appropriated from my own 2001, National Endowment for the Arts-funded publication ►NO! art and the Aesthetics of Doom (copyright, the author and The Northwestern University's Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art). While, as a much published historical theorist, I cannot help but be somewhat amused by Katz's assumption that my argued propositions (with which Boris initially did not agree) are "truths," I nonetheless find his blind appropriations to be unethical. Conversely and from an hi stenographic perspective, it is just possible that he himself did not have access to my catalogue essay (and thus could not cite it, as is normal practice) and instead simply appropriated these propositions as they were recounted to him as "truths" by Lurie himself. If, in fact, the conceptual armature of my work has entered the everyday consciousness of one of my historical subjects, I would very much like to know. The blurring of boundaries between primary and secondary literatures is not to be taken lightly by anyone whose life's work is the analysis of the history of the authorship of our histories. Back to Clayton.
As Clayton is well aware (and despite what I know is his anger toward Northwestern University) ►NO!art and the Aesthetics of Doom was the first comprehensive, historical retrospective exhibition of the collective's historical period, to be mounted in the United States. When the show opened in the Greater Chicago area immediately following the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, The Chicago Tribune (read, The New York Times of the Midwest) singled out the exhibition as the antitheses of "comfort art" and as representative of an art that "stimulates [and] rouses., art as provocation... as the nation girds itself for a long a difficult struggle against terrorism" (November 4, 2001). In addition, on January 4, 2002, the Chicago Reader (read, the Village Voice of Greater Chicago) published a full page, laudatory review of the NO! show describing the exhibition as "one of the best [Chicago area] exhibits of 2001." Critic ►Fred Camper writes: "Indeed, much of this work registers as a call to action those these artists admitted they had no solutions." Neither the "Trib" nor the "Reader" felt it necessary to play what Ami Eden (Senior Editor of The Forward) recently called "the Holocaust Card" (see "Playing the Holocaust Card," The New York Times. Op-Ed. January 29, 2005). Nor did Lurie, Goodman, Stein, Gat, Reichelt, and Milman.
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About ESTERA MILMAN: Founding Director, Alternative Traditions in the Contemporary Arts (ATCA), 1982 through 2004. Composed of artifacts, performance relics and archival material of the post-World War II avant-garde, ATCA attained an international reputation as both a groundbreaking repository for contemporary artworks and a research program. Funded, in part, by a series of grants from Federal and State agencies, the project successfully generated a host of acclaimed topical workshops, exhibitions, publications and interdisciplinary symposia. Charter Member Conceptual and Intermedia Arts Online (CIAO) and Project Leader, CIAO Fund-raising Subcommittee, 1997-2000. Participants in the CIAO consortium included Alternative Traditions in the Contemporary Arts/The University of Iowa, Berkeley Art Museum/The University of California, The Hood Museum of Art/Dartmouth College, the Getty Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities, Franklin Furnace (New York), the National Gallery of Canada, the Tate Gallery (London), and the Walker Art Center. She curated in 2000/1 the first North American retrospective of early works by the NO!art cooperative of artists active in New York since the early 60s at Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art in Evanston. ►more