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Rudij Bergmann:
With the rage of despair
Tricky things in tricky places:
The exhibition of NO!art artist
Boris Lurieon the grounds of
Buchenwald concentration camp


For example: Saturation Paintings; black and white photos and newspaper clippings formally collaged strictly on the canvas. In the center a well-known photo; Buchenwald prisoners at the barbed wire probably waiting for their liberation. Ghostly figures between life expectancy and being broken. Framed, as if it were an ornament, by a series of photos showing a pin-up girl in various unambiguous poses, whose promises leave nothing to be desired.

The beautiful and the naked, the gassed and the escaped, Boris Lurie, the survivor of a Buchenwald satellite camp, has brought them down to the painful and pleasurable denominator of life. The horror paired with the impact, the pleasure with the horror; this is how works of art were created against a forgetting that neither allows itself to be appropriated nor legitimizes looking away.

In the Weimar Capital of Culture Year 1999, the exhibition of Boris Lurie, who was born in Leningrad in 1924 and grew up in Riga, is an artistic-political counter-attack that does not care about aesthetic subtleties, as the location of the art action, the memorial site of the Buchenwald concentration camp located above Weimar, would hardly allow. The real horrors of the place and his own experienced banned in art, that is what the concentration camp inmate Lurie as an artist in two whitewashed oppressively low basement rooms of the former disinfection building spreads. And much of what he created from the 1950s to 1998, which memorial director Volkhard Knigge brought from the U.S. to Weimar, not only tramples on the nerves of the squeamish in the art business, it will also cause those whose fate is the subject of art here. But not in the usual dignified to ritualized manner of commemoration, but in the field of tension between voyeuristic pleasure and sheer horror.

Not infrequently, the artist's daring combinations of mountains of corpses and naked beauties serving all male fantasies have been interpreted as camouflages of obsessive misogyny. This is as obvious as it is short-sighted. For a seductively red-mouthed Lolita masked with red heart-shaped sunglasses, which Boris Lurie puts in confrontation with prisoners vegetating in concentration camp filth in 1962... or a lady pulling her panties over her handsome buttocks, whom the artist structures into a railroad collage in 1963 on a photo with parts of corpses on a railroad car, presenting her virtual front body to the drowned, to reduce them to misogyny is too simplistic, even if we do not assume that the artist, as a man, had only the noblest motives.

In any case, the over-gluing of Holocaust photos with pin-ups has its point of departure in the juxtaposition of sex, parties, and the mass murder of Jews that became fashionable in the 1950s in those U.S. print magazines that refused to report on the German Final Solution of the Jewish Question during the war. The artist radicalized the juxtaposition by means of collage to the coexistence of the only seemingly incompatible. The only hardly yieldable has its origin in the rage of despair of Boris Lurie, whose mother and sister were deported and murdered by those who are so inaccurately called Nazis.

Not only the Railroad Collage can also be interpreted in a broadening way; as a symbol of the triumphant life over all mass murders of history; a quite Janus-faced victory of love and drives. Georg Bussmann already circled this thought in his contribution Jew-Art in the catalog to the two exhibitions on Boris Lurie and the NO!art movement determined by him as well as Stanley Fisher and Sam Goodman, which was organized by the Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst in Berlin in October/November 1995. The catalog and a NO!art publication already published in 1988 in the edition of the Cologne multiple gallery owner Armin Hundertmark, who also publishes NO!art art pieces, are among the rare publications about an art whose anti-capitalist rage still irritates those who consider America the best of all worlds.

Boris Lurie, who arrived in New York in 1945 or perhaps a year later, and his mostly Jewish NO!art friends were not among them. The history of NO!art, which emerged as a movement in New York between 1960 and 1964 at the same time as the strongly literary Beat generation, is not least the history of its concealment. Their intolerant criticism of the American way of life, which they interpreted as a way of death with rude (anti)artistic attacks in the early years of the Cold War, was and probably still is reason enough to exclude NO!art from the canon of official, not infrequently conservative to indifferent art historiography. One of the few and most weighty exceptions in this regard is the section Alternative Traditions in the Contemporary Arts at the Museum of Modern Art in the US state of Iowa.

What American Pop Art, not least in legitimation-addicted Europe, was accused of through no fault of its own, was NO!art's program. Behind the generally claimed prosperity of the white middle class, Boris Lurie and his followers recognized the flimsiness of a consumer society that suppressed its own minorities and soon lurched into the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War. And so the worldwide student battle cry USA-SA-SS was also the slogan of the NO!art activists. Art as anti-art, schooled in political Dada, may also have one of its roots in the Jewish ban on images, which is to be cautiously evaluated. Above all, however, it was the adequate means of expression for those who, in the galleries they controlled on New York's 10th Street in the Lower East Side, very specifically took everything good, beautiful, and expensive into the crosshairs of their rejectionist art.

The NO!art movement rightly saw itself as the real antagonist of Pop Art, whose gallerist Castelli, so the story goes in New York, was at times interested in this grubby art. The Buchenwald Memorial exhibition by Boris Lurie includes almost all NO!art incunabula that the Russian-Jewish-Baltic-German Boris Lurie - who also writes poetry in his dying Baltic German mother tongue - has now created over five decades. In the mid-fifties, mostly melancholically heavy small formats such as Entrance: two figures emaciated by hunger and pain, completely absorbed in themselves, as door guards and angels of death. Certainly, both are reminiscent of those angels who wait at the gate of paradise; it is probably possible that Boris Lurie is channelling here the tragic truth that for some of those who suffered in the concentration camps, death in the gas chamber, and precisely this path to it is flanked by the figures, was redemption.

In the mid-fifties, Lurie discovered collage for himself. Now the provocative pictorial works arise from magazine photos, newspaper clippings and everyday objects, which he not infrequently painted over wildly and garishly. With his artistic means of expression, he is at the height of the times. Politically anyway. For example, the painting/collage on canvas Lumumba is Dead, finished after long years in 1964. Girls in all positions, cut patterns, fruit baskets, Lenin photo, scraps of words and Nazi flag with swastika Lurie structured to the disaster world with its multilayered love and other torture chambers; to which also the first prime minister of the now no longer Belgian Congo falls victim. A similar scenario and personnel in the likewise wall-filling Oh Mama Liberté from 1960. Away from the hodgepodge of women promising lust, color strips, the good-naturedly motherly smiling Mrs. Khrushcheva and pasted playing cards, laconically in block letters: Adolf Eichmann - Stand Up! Here the pleasure and frustration parees are transformed back into the hell of the concentration camps, about which one was happy to keep silent after the war, even in America; for one would then also have had to talk about the inability of the Allies, Lurie would probably call it deliberate failure to help, to save the Jews from extermination. This is what the artist means when he places Eichmann in the written picture. And also this: "Eichmann alive.... Eichmann dead...who cares about Eichmann?... Thousands continued to starve after the liberation (of Bergen-Belsen)." Read this way, NO!art is bitter and very early reflection art of the Holocaust, targeting the guilty as well as their beneficiaries.

Jewishness in general. It runs through the work of Boris Lurie, who probably rarely visits a synagogue in his forced and adopted home of New York, as a trace of pain that can never be erased; beyond all optical sensation. From the time of the first paintings an expressive-abstract gloomy figurativeness, holding a candle; a rabbi perhaps or a Hasidic Eastern Jew in mystical concentration. There an assemblage from 1972: hair, a fur with a yellow Star of David, high-heeled women's shoes, a blue flower stuck in a tube, a photo showing NO!art gallery owner Gertrude Stein vulgarly sensual. And as the last works so far, object-pictures made of white candles; yet no menorah lights illuminating the world, but deformed shapes that can be interpreted phallically and as vaginas and thus become symbols of permanent survival.

The closest to NO!art, to the point of deceptive similarity, is certainly Fluxus. And Fluxus artists such as Jean-Jacques Lebel and Alan Kaprow have not infrequently made common cause with NO! artists. Wolf Vostell, the political among the Fluxists, also thought closely with Boris Lurie at times and was friends with him throughout his life. Both works bear witness to astonishing correspondences; what Vostell has ahead of Boris Lurie in terms of medial diversity, Lurie makes up for with his radical use of materials.

Connecting lines could also be drawn from his art of rejection to the young British self-experiential art of Sarah Lucas and Tracey Emin, who turn the world into an object of art no less illusionlessly longing and lustfully greedy than their forebear Lurie. And his Death's Sculpture of 1964, chicken heads enclosed in cast resin, can certainly be understood as an anticipation of Damien Hirst's divided cadavers. Such possible references, at any rate, testify to the unspent power of Boris Lurie's artworks, which have still not found a home in museums. But it is precisely there, in correspondence and opposition to Fluxus, Brit- and Pop-Art, that they could unfold their political-aesthetic explosive power, of which museums are obviously still afraid.

Source: Frankfurter Rundschau vom 9. Januar 1999

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ABOUT RUDIJ BERGMANN: The muses lover. He is not hectic, the filmmaker and art lover Rudij Bergmann, born in 1943 in the Rhineland, as one would have expected from a real TV man. And he has so much to tell that it's difficult to bring a bit of stringency to his bustling flow of ideas. The author of impressive artist documentaries is initially silent about his youth and school years. Only after finishing school does it seem to have become interesting. Bergmann wanted to become a writer and published volumes of poetry. But his real love at the time was politics. His commitment was so strong that he himself describes it as his " alter ego" and that is also the reason why he later moved from his homeland to the southwest. And he passed the time as a globetrotter and bohemian in Cologne. "I always wanted to be a poet," Bergmann explains, so he preferred to move in artistic circles, but in between he was also once the branch manager of a delicatessen for three days. He even played free jazz on his saxophone in dark, smoky jazz cellars - "I still lead a zigzag life". Through his parental home he experienced a certain political pre-education, which the child Rudij Bergmann expanded by studying the plays Camus. The stage has educated him further.

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