It is difficult for me to write about art which is not personally important to me although I'm aware that "it's important" in a larger sense. The piece here I have attempted to collage came out of a visit I had with Seymour Krim. We discussed briefly the meaning and influence (if any) of the so called Shit Show which on other occasions used titles such as NO!show, Doom-Show, NO!art, etc.
I have been told and I'm sure it's the truth that this is a group involvement. Deliberately thought of, and presented to the gallery-going public in the last ten or more years. With collaboration (or conspiracy, if you will) of many painters and sculptors. Like movements before them they have social and artistic principles. Like Cubists, or Surrealists, Abstract Expressionists, their new way of seeing things is both very exaggerated and real. Perhaps, they are not as well known as Cubists and the rest, or even as significant as those; but they are a movement, yes.
Earlier I had said this movement is not personally important to me. First of all I don't trust movements. Second, although I myself am often considered a far out artist, my tastes are rather conservative and usually circle around very individualistic painters and authors. Yet many artisans I admire were also identified with groups or cliques at one time or another. (Frank O'Hara was a New York School poet now and then and some claim that DeKooning is an Abstract Expressionist. And Eugene O'Neill was Irish!) So I will bypass here the heavy stuff. Namely Shit Show and their ideological ties and envies and angers and conceits, and concentrate on their two basic founders. I also will ignore completely manifestoes of this group, since most of them could have been written by a high school boy. But the Art here with no words attached interests me immensely.
It's basic founders are Sam Goodman (died in 1967) and Boris Lurie, who's alive as many of us in this city where everything is big and dirty.
Let's start this way ... bring me two canvases to choose from. One belongs to Boris Lurie and the other to Bob Rauschenberg (Their work is not altogether un-similar). And ask me to carry one home.
I hesitating not for a minute will grab Rauschenberg. Because his pictures simply fascinate me and also suit my personality. But at the same token, I must confess that I think Lurie is more honest and finally more revolutionary than Rauschenberg. WHY? The reasons which force me to admit Lurie's moral superiority over Rauschenberg do not at all have anything to do with Luries craftsmanship (here indeed Rauschenberg is the far superior one) but it has something to do with Lurie's dedicated contempt for manufactured, manicured and supposedly Grand-Serious-American-Canvases, colored to satisfy any number of special interest groups.
Today it isn't hard to compare many deservedly famous New York painters to New York politicians. Knish in Lower East Side. Eggrolls in China Town. Cabbage and Corned Beef on Third Avenue. And heaven knows what for Europe.
In Lurie's art one does not notice (to my knowledge) the giant influences of elite-back-room-art-politicians who for some strange reason cannot settle for just making money with their fleets of whatever.
I'm no purist. Anybody who knows me, at least knows that much. But the times we live in defy compromises. A poet once said:
Of course a carnation from the lips of your love
Wouldn't look like the death of millions
In the Warsaw Ghetto.
One look-around with or without spectacles and faces the horror. It's vital, it's fresh to hear some men say: The responsibility of an artist may very well lie in Total Revolt.
As a novelist I cannot do this although I have great respect for the Che Guevaras? of the world. I guess this is because with age I became cynical of revolutions. Or is it because I served in a few? A novel is a mirror to language and when I write I try as delicately as I can not to take sides and to search for a common human background in the oppressed and the oppressor alike.
But it's certainly reassuring that the likes of Lurie come out and remind us that we live in the heart of the beast.
Despite sentiments that Lurie might or might not be my kind of an artist—he has another important concept. Maybe not that original, as it's in the tradition of Goya and queerly sometimes even Brueghel. Seek Freedom For The Disinherited But Seek Art Nevertheless. This Lurie does. Perhaps not with the gusto of Brueghel or Goya. But gusto is like legends, it differs from age to age.
Lurie, ironically, also manages something else (I don't know if it's intentional or not), to have some amount of pity for the oppressor. (See especially Lurie's 1963 canvas, Henry Cabot Lodge). If this is so, I'm more than glad to be writing this piece.
Sam Goodman's case was not much different than Lurie's but of course their styles are far apart. Goodman's tragic death (any death under seventy is tragic to me) makes his case more complex to examine. If he lived, for instance, would he be doing the same kind of things??? It's been heard quite frequently!!!! that artists change about not only after a few years, but day by day. Politically. Socially. Artistically. Comrade shapely. Christ! With everything. I say this, "only a noble man contradicts himself."
Let's assume that Goodman was still alive and was doing the same stuff and his thinking was not far divorced from his state of mind in the early sixties. So then we can easily add that this Canadian Man should be considered-indeed a very serious administrator of nightmares. Not the nightmares of the mind. But the nightmares of the world. The kind that makes us all so helpless, so small, so chained to facing death and injustice in more than 1001 ways.
Goodman is the more devastating and more captivating of the two. Other being Lurie. I believe this is because as an artist (I never knew him socially) he has this more brutal, more cynical, and in fact more torturing approach to this universe of ours. But perfectly Lurie and Goodman complement each other. Both appreciate despite everything the dignity of Man, for which Herman Melville named a boat. They also understand selfless obligation. My affection goes with them both although I will not be in the boat they are in. Eventually I might even ask these guys why they are bugging me with their "type" of truth. Each man's truth is bloody different. I any given harbor, all of us have our Rashomon eyes.
I hope, though, along with their comrades, Lurie and Goodman soon receive their hard-earned affection. Artistic affection is not a rare thing for us in this town. To my contempt many bullshit artists received it because they had godfathers, and were charming enough to eat lunches with the right people.
This novelist once wrote...:
On the graves of
Sacco an' Vanzetti
Lived a Rose
And every morning
Source: Lurie, Boris; Krim, Seymour: NO!art, Cologne 1988