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Matthias Reichelt:
NO to Art!
Foreword on behalf of
the NGBK working group


NO! NO to art! Non-art! No art! And still produce art. That is the dilemma of NO!art. From 1959 to 1964, NO!art as a movement addressed a problem that is still being taken up again and again today - admittedly with a different terminology: If art wants to be radical and not only recognizes but also processes the contradictions, especially in the most advanced capitalist system, the USA, with all its after-effects from mass unemployment to mass impoverishment, may it then enter the context of art, which in turn is an integral part of the market and thus also subject to profit maximization? Is art therefore allowed to become part of the criticized system with its inhuman market laws? Today we smile in a blasé and "enlightened" manner at such questions. Yes, new generations of artists (exceptions confirm the rule) often only want to become part of the market as quickly as possible, of course at horrendous prices. For them, the positions described above belong to the obsolete ideas of the 68 generation. Of course we are aware that every art will remain part of the context of art within the respective social formation and cannot escape it. Nevertheless, the discussion of this circulus vitiosus is instructive, since it makes clear the possibilities and limits of art.

So why are we presenting the works of the NO!art movement in 1995? The essential reason for our preoccupation with NO!art lies in its aesthetic radicalness, which is unparalleled even today. When art that was produced more than 30 years ago manages to render one speechless, to evoke repulsion, disgust, to repel and, precisely in this way, to teach sensual lessons, then it possesses an enormous and unbroken power. In NO!art, for example, the experiences Boris Lurie had as a Jewish prisoner during German fascism, permanently threatened by the "final solution", in a satellite camp of the Buchenwald concentration camp, are put into a political context that links the Holocaust with the reality under the system of Western "democracies". Degradation of human existences under German fascism are mercilessly and rudely confronted with the deprivation of human beings as commodities (here, especially women) under capitalism. Of course, no analogy is asserted here, but a shock effect is provoked, which, however, seems to be based on Max Horkheimer's famous insight: "But whoever does not want to speak of capitalism should also remain silent about fascism".

The predominantly rough, uncouth, and unwieldy aesthetics of the thoroughly heterogeneous NO!art movement, which evokes rejection and reluctance, have appealed to us. We present them in two exhibitions: "NO!art" and "Boris Lurie and NO!art". Since NO!art was by no means a firmly defined group of artists with a statute, but rather a "loose" association of artists by means of joint exhibitions, the detective search for traces, the localization of works was particularly difficult. Many of those involved have since died, their work "lost" or untraceable, heirs or descendants untraceable. Some of the artists involved at the time later distanced themselves from this phase of their artistic careers, so we could not count on their support or loans. Of the three most important people who shaped NO!art, Stanley Fisher, Sam Goodman and Boris Lurie, the first two have passed away. Due to this fact, the work of Boris Lurie alone is available almost without any gaps. In order not to make a wrong weighting because of this different material situation, but nevertheless to be able to present the exciting work of Boris Lurie in its development, we have decided for two separate exhibitions. The results of the research of the working group "NO!art" in the Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst have been incorporated into this catalog. In spite of our efforts, we have often been unable to ascertain either the exact titles of the paintings or the year in which they were created. We have tried to avoid duplication with the 1988 book NO!art (published by Boris Lurie & Seymour Krim at Edition Hundertmark, Cologne 1988) as much as possible. This book is strongly recommended to all those interested.

We would especially like to thank Gertrude Stein, who as an early supporter and gallery owner of NO!art not only supported us with private loans, but also gave us a lot of important information in several conversations and did difficult mediation work during the realization. Without her, the project would have been endangered and possibly failed.

At this point we would also like to thank Dietmar Kirves, who brought NO!art to our attention, always saw himself as the "spiritus rector", co-founded the working group in the NGBK, but left due to disharmonies.

Source: NO!, catalog, Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst, Berlin 1995.

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MATTHIAS REICHELT, born in Leipzig in 1955, studied American and German Studies from 1975 to 1983 and graduated with an M.A. degree. Since 1983 he has worked as an exhibition organizer, publicist and critic. From 1986 to 2004 he held a part-time position at the Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst (NGBK) in press and public relations. Since 2005, he has written articles for Kunstforum International, the Berlin city magazine Zitty, the liberal daily Der Tagesspiegel and the left-wing junge Welt, as well as for the weekly Jüdische Allgemeine, among others. In 2015, he was awarded the Hans and Lea Grundig Prize together with Lith Bahlmann. more

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