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NO SHOW AT GERTRUDE STEIN GALLERY
By SEYMOUR KRIM (1963)
Published in: Seymour Krim: Shake it for the World, Allison and Busby, London, 1971.
l was kindly asked to write this introduction to the NO!show for two oddly pertinent reasons: l am the editor of "The Beats", an anthology of Beat Generation prose and poetry, and the editorial director of "Nugget" magazine. If you couple the outcries of Beat literature with the direct erotic charge of a magazine like "Nugget", you have a unique marriage of elements which could not have been dreamed up before this specific, cockeyed period we're living in. Both the writing and the pictures glory in sources of repressed life that couldn't very well find their way into such publications äs "The New York Times", the "New Yorker", or even the "Partisan Review". At its best, this exposure of flesh and frankness is too disturbing for the intellectually mink-lined operations nomed above and at its frankest it bitterly offends traditionalists who want expression which is subdued, selective and discreetly clothed.
Without forcing the question, l see an unmistakable connection between a magazine like "Nugget" and the present exhibition. Although our ambition and daring have not yet gone the lengths of artists like Boris Lurie and Sam Goodman, because we are a mass magazine and can only subvert hollow tradition and dullness by easy stages, both the magazine and this exhibition share a passion for contemporary imagery. We both are mediums for the release of the most vivid, racy and caustic sights and scenes which all but overwhelm the sensitive American eye. The painters in this show, from the shrill siren-warnings of Stanley Fisher to the obsessive phallic imagery of Yayoi Kusama, are however much more aggressive and individualistic than what we have so far visually permitted in "Nugget" . Even a sassy mass-publication like ours must bend an ear to the cash register in order to survive, and this means that we must be ever alert to entertaining as well as alarming. But the majority of the works in this exhibition are entertaining only as an often-thought l believe; their primary intention is to communicate, or more accurately, be a savage experience that owes little to that diplomatic finesse which all commercial art must cultivate. These artists are totally unbuckled to their vision, so to speak, letting escape all the smelly gases that cause constipation in so many other compartments of psychological and even artistic life.
This in itself is reason for genuine respect, l believe, even if you recoil or are angered by the calculated extremism of some of the work. Why? Because serious art in a rather cowardly mass society such as ours must constantly assert to the public that it is motivated by a different purpose than the decorative or simply artful work which is gobbled up by mass-media man without Indigestion. America today is no place for self-respecting beauty which doesn't threaten complacency. We have too much sickness in every compromised area of our lives to need art that soothes. Marvellous French masters are not in tune with us right now. We need art that screams, roars, vomits, rages, goes mad, murders, rapes, commits every bloody and obscene act it can to express only a shred of the human emotions that lie prisoner beneath the sanitary tiles here in adman's utopia.
Most of us, people as well as painters, live every 24 hours in the midst of constant and previously unimaginable bewilderment these days. We are dazed. One's values, sense of purpose, psychic equilibrium, are zip-gunned from every side by the new barbarism that American culture has rained down upon us. No one who can feel is spared the absurdities, indignities - the sense of drowning in a stew of taxicabs, Coca-Cola machines and tight-jeaned asses - that the "material carnavalia" of our society has pyramided beyond laughter or tears. This is the life we know with our own eyes; but it is so incredible by previous Standards that we try to gloss experience with the formal consolations of another period. These artists are too much in love with the monstrosities of contemporary life to fake their vision: the bulk of the work in this show is an appropriately brutal effort to cope with a brutish environment.
Allan Kaprow's piece is an exception to my eye: it is cool, calculated and effective in a controlled and delimited sense. He has classic taste, but the point of view is too cautious to be representative of what you will see. Esther Gilman's broken Christ shows the disenchantment of a private religious experience, perhaps bitter disillusionment is the closer description, and it no doubt succeeds but on a comparatively gentle level of wanhope. Michelle Stuart's sadomasochistic portraits and Yayoi Kusama's orchard of penises2 seem closer to the precise point of paint and fantasy, all done within terms of the female sensibility - so different from my own that l am an insensitive translator of all three ladies' language and advise you to react to their broken melodies with your own sensory equipment.
But with men like Lurie, Goodman, Fisher and Tyler, the work hits you like a rock hurled through a synagogue window. Smash! - and a 100 emotions follow in its wake, blasphemy, violence, hatred, release, fear, disgust, anger. After having suffered a critical brush-off in their early March Gallery exhibitions - the Vulgar, Involvement and Doom shows - this group of unfashionables have now made it shockingly clear that they've invented a slam-bam art of the '60s which is going to turn a lot of people around. They use every handy aesthetic device (collage with mixed technique, overprints, what Boris Lurie calls a "simultaneity of attack") that will torpedo the eye and rape your soul of its clichés. They are a band of rapists in a sense, impatient, unsparing, open-flied and ready for action - "hot" pop artists out for copulation rather than cool ones doing doodles before a mirror.
The garishness of their color, the posteresque eternality of emotion, the flashy, honky-tonk "Beat Coney Island" tone and lack of shading in the materials - all these are deliberate tabloid like devices to give you the real yummy taste of our squawking American nightmare. "A match skating in a urinal" was Hart Crane's almost chaste Image of disgust 30 years ago; now it has multiplied into these bashed-in TV sets, girlie pinups next to concentrationcamp mass graves, in short the unedited film Strips of the contemporary id which usually end up in the mind's waste-paper-basket. To be honest, l am at moments uncomfortable with the garment-center schlook and hysteria that squirts out from some of the work even though l understand its necessity. A good example of this is the Stanley Fisher piece which hangs above my fireplace, purchased from his "Help!" show. What is remarkable about it is that it actually brings Times Square and its hustling-chick, suicide-pill desperation into my house. l feel naked before it, it is such a trophy hunted down in the jungle of public life that it seems to be alive. l resent it because it is so raw, vulgar, smeared, screechy, hardly separate from the fevered streets that inspired it. And yet l love it because of its reality. Not being a painter, it seems to me extraordinary that the reality which l and thousands of my generation must cope with every day has been seized and thrown cursing into art.
Let us not kid each other. The life we are forced to live in New York and America today often seems like a bad pot-dream, paranoid and cruelly absurd beyond conventional description. Much of the work in this exhibition seems to me the closes t approximation of this contemporary mad house, which is our existential lot, that l have seen. Some of it is as uneven as a rollercoaster and the artists vary from con-man to saint, often in the same package. But what a picky little matter compared to more urgent needs. The times have decreed the noise and insanity that rise from the streets and drop down from the sky, and as the times always do, they have inspired a group of artists to use this time's own personality against itself. How right and necessary for us all!
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About SEYMOUR KRIM (May 11, 1922 - August 30, 1989) was an American author, editor and literary critic. He is often categorized with the writers of the Beat Generation. Krim was a respected essayist, and wrote a number of books including Views of a Nearsighted Cannoneer, Shake It For The World, Smartass, The Beats, Maugham the Artist, You and Me, and a compilation entitled, What's This Cat's Story? Krim was an influential journalist, reviewer and magazine editor. He wrote for the Village Voice, among many other publications, and was considered part of the New Journalism movement of the 1960s. Krim was born, and spent much of his time, in New York City. He taught writing seminars at a number of universities in the United States and abroad. After suffering from a number of physical setbacks, including a debilitating heart attack, Krim took his own life by an overdose of barbiturates on August 30 1989.