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FRIEDEMANN MALSCH: On the publication of the first NO!art anthology (1989)

And what if the bomb never goes off? What then? Then tough talks will be held again in the planning offices ... What can ONE do? You don't dare. ONE can break up! ONE can push the button! Moles we are with drinking water in cans. Five liters for six marks. Buried in the depths, we run around in circles, forbidden to breathe air...Is the radioactive radiation still dangerous? Where are the measuring devices? Did someone crack a joke? Hahaha.... Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)

A text by Thomas Bernhard, perhaps? Or a post-Chernobyl outpouring by Rainald Goetz? Neither: Sam Goodman wrote that in a manifesto for the Doom Show in 1961.

In 1973, on the occasion of a retrospective of the NO!art movement in Berlin, Heinz Ohff characterized it as "a kind of sect between Pop and Happening, with a dash of Critical Realism, which admittedly did not...tend toward Dada Realism, but rather toward art brut."

It was precisely against this classification mania of the art establishment that Goodman, Stanley Fisher and Boris Lurie, the founders of NO!art, fought with their various exhibitions, first in their own March Gallery. later in the Gertrude Stein Gallery between 1958 and 1964. NO!art was a fundamental opposition, born on the de'gout in the face of the hegemony of the non-committal aesthetic of Abstract Expressionism in a political situation of the "Cold War", connected with general rearmament, H-bomb euphoria and the still fresh memory of the horrors of Nazi crimes, concentration camps and gas chambers.

In Europe, the artists of NO!art as well as the activities of the group, in which at times also well-known names such as Allen Kaprow, Jean-Jacques Lebel, Erro and others participated, have hardly become known so far. After Goodman had already died in 1967 and Fisher followed him in 1980, Boris Lurie now succeeded in publishing a documentation of the NO!art activities. However, anyone expecting a glossy brochure of the kind that has since rehabilitated the last upright members of the avant-garde will be disappointed. The book, published by Edition Hundertmark, still shows in its layout the subversive character that was inherent in this movement. Reading it, however, quickly allows the reader to see the reasons for its continued ignorance. Even today, from the hindsight of 25 years, exhibitions, individual works, and the artists' ideas made public in pamphlets have high provocative value. From the "Vulgar Show" and the "Involvement Show" (in which an active intervention in the power structures of art and society was unmistakably demanded of every visitor), both in 1961, to the legendary "Doom Show" (theme: nuclear overkill), which could also be seen in Italy, an increasing precision and sharpness of attack could already be detected. The climax and at the same time the end of the movement was then marked by the NO!SculptureShow/Shit Show(1964) organized by Goodman and Lurie, in which feces were presented according to strictly formal criteria.

The photographic documentation of these activities still breathes, and today: already again, the breath of the taboo violation, of the cultural-political radical artistic attitude. Here one finds much that has come to our plate as postmodern cynicism since the beginning of the 1980s, already unmistakably formulated 20 years earlier. The photographic section is accompanied by a collection of texts with contributions from various personalities. Personal statements, letters, appreciations, critiques, and theoretical reflections, including a little-known text by Gregory Battcock from 1971, alternate. The lineup of names is illustrious: Iris Clert, Wolf Vostell, Aragon, Seymour Krim, Marcel Janco, Lil Picard, Dore Ashton, Mario de Micheli, and Tom Wolfe are among the authors.

Since the realization of this documentation took 20 years, the period for the creation of the texts is also correspondingly large. But this testifies to the continuous topicality of the ideas that Lurie never tires of proclaiming. Regarding his "NO!posters" (1964), which exhibit similar recycling methods of the image as Polke/Kohlhöfer's, he says they are "the spontaneous expression of a self-cleansing machine that rebels against its abuse in society with its own inherent mechanics." Aesthetic indifference with strong moral shock - here is an important pre-chapter for the 80s to discover.

Source: Kunstforum, Band 99, Cologne, March/April 1989, p. 352-53

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Friedemann Malsch has been director of the Liechtenstein State Art Museum in Vaduz since 1996. He is the author of numerous publications on modern and contemporary art. more

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