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FRANZISKA BECHER in conversation with DIETMAR KIRVES
NO!art Headquarters Berlin | Nov 19, 2010 | 6:50 pm
FRANZISKA BECHER: What role did you play in NO!art?
DIETMAR KIRVES: Yes, when you talk about roles, you are actually thinking of theater. But NO!art is not theater. NO!art is reality. I have brought NO!art back to the public because for a long time NO!art was not noticed beyond New York. I got ►Boris Lurie's works through ►Armin Hundertmark in Berlin in 1978. I already had contact with Armin back in 1969. At that time, he published smaller editions with Joseph Beuys in addition to his work as a cemetery gardener. I knew ►Joseph Beuys personally. In 1974, Boris had sent Armin a bundle of NO!art documents in a jute bag for publication on the initiative of ►Wolf Vostell.
I found this sack in Hundertmark's closet in the Berlin allotment garden colony Kleeblatt in 1978. It is remarkable here that a later Lurie reviewer was also called Kleeblatt. He mentioned NO!art and Boris Lurie in 2002 in the exhibition ►Mirroring Evil in New York. At that time, Hundertmark was more involved in ►Fluxus as an editor and not in NO!art. That did not necessarily fit into his program. But Boris wrote him at least three letters every week with requests: „When are you doing something? When do you do what? When will this finally get going? When will the anthology come to light?“ Hundertmark then asked me in early 1978: „Can't you do that?“ I had used Hundertmark to design a cultural magazine that appeared under the title ►AUSGABE. The first issue came to light in 1976. That's how he knew that I knew about layout and print design. And that's also why he asked me to take on NO!art.
So, I took a look at this, and I found the input relevant for me. Their maxims corresponded to my refusenik existence, which the NO!art individuals propagated there. They fought the inhuman, selfish, better-knowledge-being-mainstreamers. They fought against the manipulation of the art market and were against the hypocritical aestheticization of everyday commodities to increase consumption. They fought against the pop art mainstream. Hopefully the Pop artists died happy with their Rich Money. Long live Lukas Cranach, Leonardo DaVinci, Van Gogh and Tatlin.
And so I found my way back into the art world. Started again to occupy myself with the "miserable art manipulation" and to work against it.
My activities developed from there. In 1988 with the first ►NO!art anthology compiled and designed by me and Boris Lurie. Then the big ►NO!show 1995 in Berlin, the ►Boris Lurie show 1998 in Buchenwald. 2003 the book ►NO!art in Buchenwald with texts and pictures of Boris Lurie, supplemented with works of his friends, as well as the ►NO!-ON show 2003 in Berlin with further involved artists. And in the year 2000 - at the turn of the millennium - I started the NO!art website on the Internet with the publication of a part of the previous activities. I have been maintaining this NO!art website for ten years now - and still do. I have thereby brought the acceptance of NO!art to more than 100 thousand page views per month. See ►www.no-art.info
And what interested you most about NO!art?
What kind of relationship did you have with the March Group?
According to which criteria did the artists find their way into NO!art?
The ►cellar gallery - as can also be seen on the Internet - was then full of pictures, sculptures and assemblages at the time. An installation and an environment of shared thinking. At that time, many art speculators were running around downtown because New York was the center of the art world. And the speculators were just interested in finding new artists with whom they could continue to speculate. And that was basically too much garbage for them in the gallery, so they said: „That's not art! “ So in English or American „That’s NO!art! “ That's how the term NO!art became established with Lurie and the others.
And there was even an art collector who wanted to buy everything they were doing at once. And they didn't want that at all. They threw him out of the gallery. He wanted to buy everything in one fell swoop, so that he could get something cheap in the background for his speculation, if it became known later and ‚valuable’. And they rejected that, too. And thereupon even Goodman - who has already died - said to the collector: “I shit on you, and I piss on you because you can't pay for something like that with money".
And then the artists there did the ►Vulgar show, and the ►Doom show, that is, the downfall show and the ►Involvement show. Involvement is difficult to translate, but in the meantime, here in this area, we also understand what involvement is. And there were just a lot of people there and for a certain time it was a place where you could express yourself unhindered. And where many art critics came and wrote about it. Which can also be seen on the NO!art website. Only, this has not gone down in art history. Why should it? Manipulation, social commitment and artistic freedom do not get along.
Can one then even speak of an end to NO!art 1964?
There are different artistic activities. ►Trojans, for example, are a good instrument, because, NO!art can also be seen as a Trojan, as a Trojan in the art movement, which unsettles the whole thing. But it's a lot of work to unsettle the scene, if you're not capitalistically heavily saddled to control it. That's why it's a good way to do that on the Internet these days. It's not expensive. But you can at least make something known, which you can see in the fact that I have many visitors on my NO!art website, which I have been running since 2000. Since 2000 because before that the internet was not yet perfect and there were still many obstacles with the computer machines to publish this. And if I remember the time before 2000, I remember that you had to pay 20 Pfennig per minute for receiving from the Internet and all that. And nowadays you can do all that with flatrate. And in the meantime the flatrate has come down so far that there is already flatrate fucking.
Where can we still see NO!art today?
Unfortunately, all this is connected with a lot of work. For example, for every new artist that I integrate into NO!art - I'm only a „one-man-business“ -, you could say: It costs me at least a week of work, several hours a day, to weave all this into the NO!art folders, to organize everything and to get feedback. Then there are the daily mail replies. And I also have artistic ideas. And the day doesn't have that many hours, if you think of how many hours you spend sleeping, washing, eating, shopping, waiting at the checkout in the supermarket. Still things are progressing.
To what extent could NO!art establish itself?
Do you think that this is a kind of anaesthesia, a kind of delusion takes place?
So NO!art does not have to establish itself at all?
So the whole NO!art and NO is actually a current that moves between utopia and reality. You cannot always say NO, you have to say YES or ON. So the oscillation between NO and ON. I see the movement more like a picture puzzle. Or like a multistable perception phenomenon. Like in the works of ►Escher, for example, where the perspective in the picture constantly swings back and forth.
Large exhibitions are also part of the establishment. I don't believe that an institution would make such a big NO!art exhibition with the corresponding costs. I have already tried to make it clear to several curators that I need 400 meters of wall length to show all this. On top of that, many of the artists have lost their works. Many have died, nobody has taken care of the estate except for the garbage collector. Here in my archive I only have documents and prints, copies and isolated works. So you could put something together, but someone has to be up for it. In the meantime, the situation in Germany is such that the cultural institutions have no more money. An example: When I had arranged my first ►NO!art exhibition in Berlin at the ►Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst (NGBK), the lottery company had provided a larger sum of money, because the transportation and insurance costs were very high from New York to here and so on. But then the money was shifted, first because not enough money came in for other exhibitions there and then there was less for NO!art. I left the organization there, especially since they wanted to regiment me. Only Lurie and not the other NO!art artists from the NO!art-Involvement should be exhibited. A pathetic arrangement. Finally, Lurie was separated from the involved artists and shown at another location. This no longer corresponded to my and Lurie's intention. So I left the NGBK working group that I had founded with good will. But to establish something like that is not so easy. But Lurie still got through it. He did not understand the machinations of the NGBK. So the working group traveled to New York without me and enjoyed themselves there with their friends, without any fruitful results.
What is your relationship to NO!art today?
What is your relationship to Pop Art?
What do you think about the statement of Marcuse „Capitalist progress has not only restricted the starting point for freedom, the open space of human existence. But also the open longing, the need for such a starting point?“
And let's get back to Boris Lurie, what kind of person was Boris Lurie and how did you meet him?
I got to know Boris personally in 1988 on the occasion of the presentation of the first ►NO!art anthology in the Galerie und Edition Hundertmark in Cologne. We had both compiled the NO!art anthology in ten years of work. However, we had been in contact by letter, fax and telephone since 1978. And then he also supported me financially. He even sent me a small amount every month with dollars in an envelope. In the envelope, because the bank charges were too high. And so he also started to move from time to time as an old man, because he had to walk from 66th Street to 69th Street, where the next mailbox was. But in the end the bills became so old that the exchange office had to check in lists whether the bills were still valid. Boris had probably stashed them under his bed. He probably had a lot of money lying around in the apartment. Before he died, he was in the hospital several times for a long time and then friends of his renovated his apartment and threw away the refrigerator with old things in it and all that. There must have been money in it, too. He had a complete row with the apartment renovators. Yes, he supported me and we talked on the phone, at least once a week, and exchanged ideas, and then I visited him from time to time in New York to exchange ideas, view the art warehouse and so on.
And could NO!art have been like this at all without Boris Lurie, his experiences and art? So to what extent has it shaped his life and NO!art?
As always in loose associations, many artists often go their own ways and thus separate, some wanted nothing more to do with it, and, many have died in the meantime. And so, together with Boris and Clayton, I have involved other artists in NO!art. So NO!art shaped him and his life until the end. Up to the end he still made shifts in the NO!art involvement and also partly fixed it by notary. Art was for him the means of expression in society. Even his father wanted him to become an artist. Already at the age of sixteen, Boris made book illustrations for the Latvian Communist Party in Riga.
And of course Boris’ concentration camp experiences have also shaped NO!art. His father was liberated by the Americans in Buchenwald in 1945 and, strangely enough, immediately ran around outside in a black suit, Boris told us. And Boris himself was in Magdeburg, a subcamp of Buchenwald. It was a labor camp at the Poltewerke for the production of ammunition. So he had been fed there, more than those in Buchenwald, but he had to work hard every day. He was protected by some secret powers to prevent him from entering the gas chambers. He also never saw gas chambers and mass exterminations. The labor camp in Magdeburg was dissolved in April 1945 because of heavy bombing. Immediately afterwards he was recruited by the C.I.C. - an American military secret service - with his knowledge of English - I don't know where he got it from. He could translate for them, German, English, Russian and so on which was then used to find Nazis in around Magdeburg. Lurie probably exaggerated that - cinema was interesting at that time, there was no television - he invited girls to the cinema who didn't fit in with the secret service. Thereupon the C.I.C. dismissed him. And then he ... His father had already arrived in New York in 1945. He only arrived in New York on June 18. And his father immediately started real estate business there.
And Lurie started with stocks?
And in the concentration camp, under the protection of the Jewish SS officer Scherwitz, he advanced to sign painter and carpenter. He also had to build coffins for those who had been shot. Because he had always been in smaller camps, where nothing gassing was taking, no mass deportation or the like, he never actually saw those trucks full of corpses. It was Sam Goodman who first brought this to his attention. He had a whole suitcase full of photographic documentation from that time. And then Boris realized that and contrasted that with his lack of experience in adolescent sexuality and what goes on there and so on. That's how his ►RAILROAD COLLAGE came on the light.
Yes, his father was a real estate agent and financed his art studies. Boris was a good painter. You can see that in his paintings. In the 60s his father died, which saddened Boris and from which he suffered a lot. However, Boris was probably fixated on money multiplication from an early age. So he came to the conclusion that the easiest thing to do is to buy 50 cent shares in bulk. He always got - as already mentioned - the New York Times. A very thick thing with very small letters. Two millimeters high; the names of the stocks. At first he only bought shares with women's names. And at some point he saw that Olivetti had also gone down to 50 cents. So he took it. After all, he had been in Italy with his sister in 1939. He loved that country. Later, the exhibitions in ►Milan and ►Rome also came. Olivetti then rose several times over. He also bought Norwegian hotel stocks for 50 cents. The hoteliers later came up with the idea of filling their empty Spanish coastal hotels with computer specialists and software developers. And then suddenly the computer bubble burst and the 50-cent stock was at 170 dollars.
I remember it well. That day I was even still with him in New York. When he heard this next to me on the phone, he jumped in the air. I immediately told him: „Now we're going to buy a castle in Thuringia, a NO!art castle! “ the GDR had just gone to ruin and you could get something like that cheap. He then immediately commissioned ►Naomi in Weimar to take photos of suitable objects. She immediately sent wonderful photos of an ►castle nearby, what was still available and so on. But all that didn't get started . Because, stock speculation also has something to do with love. And once you've gotten involved, you can't let it go. That's why he kept speculating, on and on, on and on. His friend ►Martin had 18 million dollars. And Boris only had 17 million. In his „Poems“ he once wrote that if he had ►17 million dollars, he would stop. But he never stopped.
And why was the book ►Geschriebigtes / Gedichtigtes [Writings / Poems] published only in 2003?
He is socially minded. But through stock trading and so on he feeds the capitalists. That is why he was not dependent on selling anything. All the people who were involved in NO!art and had once participated had actually sold nothing at that time. A few became even more famous like D’Arcangelo for example. He even made the poster for the Munich Olympics. Or Dorothy Gillespie created some sculptures in the courtyard for Rockefeller Center, and so on. But what then basically had nothing more to do with NO!art, only that the beginnings were rooted in NO!art's social criticism.
And where did Boris Lurie store his things?
In 2001, I was there with my son at NO!art art camp to prepare for the big exhibition at ►Block Museum in Evanston. We wrapped the rest of the works in plastic so that the cockroaches couldn't get to them so quickly because we realized they didn't like plastic. In 2008 Boris died and then I couldn't follow up on that anymore. But now I want to go there soon to see what is left of it.
And what happens to the headquarters, what are your plans?
So with the preservation of art, it's such a problem. It's mostly about trade and what was traded at the time. Van Gogh was not in demand at all in his time. He had trouble buying his brushes and paints, for example. Or other movements like „the bridge“. They were also only together temporarily. Or „Fluxus“. Someone took part here and there, or something like that, and then everyone went their own way again. So it's all a question of how one looks back at history. It's all a question of how to look at it and who it is important to and why it is important. Also in the context of temporal events, what happens in time. Therefore, in addition to the website NO!art, which I have been maintaining for ten years now, I have also published a page with „mindshots“ on the Internet (mindshots.info) . „mindshots“, which means to set something in motion in the brain. Where certain things are taken out of the temporal events to show people what happened in the time, which is relevant from the point of view of NO!art.
And the estate of Boris Lurie?
Only, at the moment this is a „one-person business“. As I said, I would like to do one more big exhibition and then that's it. I can't do so much anymore in my old age. There are currently about 9,450 files on the NO!art website. So you have to think about the following: If it takes you 10 seconds to look at each page, then you've been sitting there for a month and a half reading and looking at it all in an eight-hour day. Who wants to do that? That is already a lot. And that's about a tenth of what's in the archive. A group would really have to carry on, some interested staff or something, to keep it going. But who is interested in something like that, which basically nobody wants to have because it is too critical and doesn't correspond to the mainstream.
NO!art is only virtual on the Internet. So if I were to adapt to that now - I have already gotten offers from China, they would brush it all in oil and do everything according to my wishes - and then I could throw it on the market. But that is not my will.
The times are changing and many artists reject the internet. But some are already using it. There is a very strong upsurge in art manipulation at the moment. And just here, where Berlin has become so open now, and the rents here are still quite cheap - a new gallery is opening on every street corner. But nothing new and nothing critical is happening. They repeat the old things again. And then some collectors come along and want to buy the whole store. So that the artists are satisfied and then think that this is being pushed up.
Thank you for the NO!art interview.