While thinking about the concept of the individual in society I remembered an article I conducted with Boris Lurie of the NO!art movement. Two days ago I posted part of the article, originally printed in The Daily Iowan newspaper. Following is the interview conducted for that article between Boris Lurie and myself.
Lurie, a survivor of World War II concentration camps moved to New York following the war and during the 1960's became a founding member of the March Gallery Group also known as the NO!art movement. Many of his images are disturbing to most and extremely controversial to others. One collage, Railroad to America combines an image of corpses from Nazi concentration camps with an image of a woman taken from a nudie magazine. The group was involved with anti-war protest and challenged Pop art's sanitized, cool look with passionate, direct imagery combined with a gestural immediacy they attributed to Absract Expressionism.
In 1999 a Conference on NO!art was held at the University of Iowa Museum and in 2000-1 a retrospective show of NO!art curated by Estera Milman was held at The University of Chicago, The University of Iowa, and Nebraska.
Alan Murdock: What are some of your thoughts on portrayals of women in society and what do the uses of these images mean in your work?
Boris Lurie: The symbol of the pinup girl is all-pervasive in this country. A lot is used to sell items by enticing the spectator which leads to the use of merchandising and to heighten one’s spirits for success because what the male sees as success is the attainment of women. You would see the pinup girl used in the Army and Navy during the Second World War and in the locker rooms and workshops of labor-intensive jobs during and after the war. The pornographic aspect is used to excite men, and possibly women, and is used as fodder for the economic mill. We worked in an expressionistic vein. I never thought about what I was going to make before I made it.
Estera [Milman] has put a strong emphasis on linking the work of the March Gallery group/NO!art collective to that of the Dada artists...
You mean the World War One Dada artists?
This is something that was for us was far off in the past. We worshiped the Abstract Expressionists. These were our influences.
What about Neo-Dada that your work as well as the Pop artists seem to have been grouped under by some people...
Neo-Dada came up in the 1950's to refer to Rauschenberg and Johns. If we used any Dada means it was not towards a playful experimenting, which Dada did. It was meant and turned out in personal expression and social criticism.
Could you say more about these aspects of personal expression and social criticism?
It was social criticism, but it was a yelling out of the individual more in a sense of a poem that has to come from personal experience.
More than an essay? For example, if you wanted only social criticism you could just publish a statement.
Yes, exactly. The idea that we expressed was to open up limitations of art. Aesthetic art limits itself to areas that should be reworked and other areas that should not be touched. We were against it and wanted to incorporate all things, even down to the dirt on the sidewalk. Include, not exclude. Even personal feelings that might not be appropriate in polite society.
Would you say through this immediacy you were working against the aesthetic art you mentioned earlier?
What we did does not have to be un-aesthetic. There were many good artists [in our group] and they were making aesthetic work. What people called un-aesthetic was the content that came out, because you can have immediacy in Abstract Expressionism. What came out with this immediacy is what people objected to. And it was not merely objectification to the work, it was a different approach. People didn't see where it fits into the edifice of art.
What do you see as the role of the artist in society?
I personally have no objection to art that is very craftsman like, but that's not the real role in any society. The role of the artist is to find one's point of view and express it regardless of whether it is appreciated or not. It also depends on how the artist is influenced. If the artist is influenced by the wrong thing, well... maybe it will end up being only craftsmanship.
What about the shows?
We did our own shows regardless [of the established galleries]. There were a lot of cooperative galleries for artists to show or to get the work out. There was a very big audience, a high attendance in these small galleries, though not a lot of sales of work.
So it was more important for you to get the work out to be seen than to sell it?
Yes. Since we were not connected with the gallery establishment we had total freedom. People who work with the established galleries and through museums always have to think, "What will so and so important person think," right? We were fortunate there weren't so many sales.
Why is that?
The way it works is there are certain so called "important people” who you want to buy your work because they will either collect it, speculate it, or put it in a museum to have their names remembered as important collectors or benefactors of the arts. If someone else buys it, say a doctor, the work just disappears or is destroyed. Now people want to show our work and we still have it. Paradoxically it was beneficial.
Copyright 1999 by Alan Murdock