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GERTRUDE STEIN ON BORIS LURIE
Edited by Delfina Jałowik and Chris Shultz, New York 2018
Published in the catalog Pop Art after the Holocaust, MOCAK Museum of Contemporary Art, Krakow 2018
Boris’s childhood and youth
Boris was born in Leningrad in 1924. When Lenin died, Stalin stopped the five-year-plan, so Boris’s father, who was a businessman, lost all his money and he knew that under Stalin he’d be murdered, so they went to Latvia with the children, when Boris was a few months old. But all his family came from Russia. They lived in a smaller town in Russia, and his mother was sent to Paris to study dentistry. She became a dentist. His father became a businessman and he was always very successful. The grandparents had a grain factory. They came from upper-middle class in Russia. For Jews that was very good! His parents were not born in St. Petersburg, they were able to get there eventually, because his father was a successful businessman. They had a beautiful apartment in St. Petersburg – Shalyapin lived in that building and Boris always spoke about that it was a great building.
They lived in St. Petersburg until they had to get out in 1924. That’s when Stalin came in. Boris had a very upper-middle class life and he went to very good schools. The family was very happy, although he told me that his mother was very dissatisfied with her life as a woman. She was very active. She liked being a dentist and she had friends who were very political. His father was dyed-in-the-wool businessman. No matter where you’d put him, he could become rich again. It happened many times. He was rich in Russia. He came to Latvia and became rich in Latvia. He came poor to America and became rich in America. Boris, deep down, also must have had it in him, because at the end of his life he decided to make a lot of money. He said, “My work won’t exist if I don’t take care of it,” and he needed money for it. So he went to the stock market and became a millionaire. But he didn’t pay his taxes, so they took most of it away when he died.
Boris grew up in a German-Jewish community. He went to a Jewish-German school, and all these people who’d run away from other places, in Latvia were one group of friends socially. Boris did very well. At that time he became a Labor Zionist at a very early age, and he was very active in the movement, and his friends were also. For his 13th birthday, they gave him a trip to Italy as a birthday present. During that trip he had to go through Germany. This was very dangerous at that time. He went to Germany, and then to Italy, where his sister lived. She was married by that time – to a prince, so she was called Princess Tranfo. They ran a horse farm, they bred horses. Boris’s father had put them in business with the horses in Italy, so they were there. But she ended up getting married because the governor of their neighborhood said that Assya (that was her name) would be put in jail because she was a communist. So they said, “Get her out of town,” and her father sent her to Italy, and that’s where she found her first husband and that’s how she was saved, because she was in Italy, not in Latvia.
Her husband was also a soldier, so they helped get Boris out of Germany, but Boris’s father initially didn’t want to leave Germany. After the Holocaust, the Germans needed a token Jew for every capitalist venture. They had to have one Jew on the board. Now, Boris’s father was a natural businessman, he already had a mistress and an apartment, and a car, and he didn’t want to leave, but his daughter came over and said, “You’d better leave, look what happened to mother and sister.” So that’s when they came to America – and they were poor again. But his father built up another business.
Boris was an artist from the very beginning, even before the war, before the camp, he had made sketches and the like. One of his favorite cousins was an illustrator, who gave him a lot of advice on how to work. When he came to America, he became an artist. His father bought a lot of old buildings and he could stay in a building until they rented it, so he moved from place to place until he had to get out. Then he found a studio down in East 6th Street, and that’s where he did most of his work, after the East Side rentals, as he could never afford to buy or rent. He lived in East 6th Street for all those years, had a wonderful studio there, he loved it. But he’d make everywhere like a concentration camp, the studio was all black, it was difficult to find anything, it was just terrible. He lived that way all his life. And no matter how much money he had, he’d buy the cheapest things and live very much like a poor man, he felt it was wrong to spend and throw money around and live extravagantly after what had happened. He was very conscious of it all his life, until his death.
He remembered everything, even from his early childhood, and even the people in the camp. Some of them were very good to him. He was only 16, and they took him under their wing, even though his father was with him. One of the carpenters taught him how to do carpentry, which saved him in many ways, and another taught him how to hide all day until it got dark so the Nazis couldn’t find him, and he learned to sleep all day and stay up all night. He didn’t forget this for his entire life, and he worked mostly at night, and all his houses had black walls, all looked like darkness and that’s what he painted. That was his best way of remembering the Holocaust, his Latvian life, and until he died, he lived in a black studio.
The impact of the past on Boris’s life
Practically every time we saw each other, some reference would come up... He asked me what I thought of a painting, and when I said something, he then said it would remind him of some boy at school, or would remind him of his mother. Everything would bring back something from the past, from his sister’s life, his sister that was killed. His mother and sister were murdered in Rumbula. He remembered how his mother would tell him about her studies in France, and her vegetarian beliefs. Also, he talked a lot about Asya Kadis. She studied with Alfred Adler, lived in Latvia and was a psychotherapist. Boris was sent to her when he was very young, because he was a troublesome kid, and so they became very good friends. When she came to America, Boris and I would see her often. We both used her as an analyst. Those were all people from the past he would see, all his friends who survived. We would go to the Latvian reunion every year. For him, he was always a Latvian. Boris was in the camps for four years. But before the war, the Germans had been in Latvia and the Russians had been there, too. He loved the Russians. The Germans were horrible. They had to put the soldiers up in their apartment. One of the Russians, a soldier, was in love with his sister and he wanted to take her back to Russia, where he could save her, but she wouldn’t leave and so she was killed too. But she had a chance to get out with this Russian soldier. Boris became very fond of the Russian music, Russian literature, Russian poetry. He had a real Russian heart.
The women and children [from the Riga ghetto] were sent to Rumbula. He and his father were able to stay together, which was a miracle, and his father was able to do many things in the camp. He was able to take care of Boris, to sell a cigarette, and sell this and that. He became a very active businessman in the camp. He was always business-oriented, and Boris was an artist, always. When his father came to see our first show in the black gallery, the NO!art gallery, he said, “Boris, you’re rich!” He thought everything would sell, everything goes like that. His father had no idea that the art world was quite different from business in selling and buying. So Boris said, “No, it doesn’t work that way.” His father was a charming man. After the liberation, he met a woman on the boat and he got married, so Boris had a stepmother. She was Polish, Lidia, and Boris and she were in court for years about that estate – for about 30 years they were suing each other in court, it was terrible. Boris was a very tough person with legal stuff, he didn’t mind suing somebody. He kept suing until they gave him a fair share of what his father left him. He was very active in protecting himself and those who needed protection.
It was 1961. I had seen Boris’s work in one of the group shows downtown and I was very excited about it. I didn’t know the artist, I just remembered the name. And then this name came up with a friend of mine, Elmer Kline, who was a writer, and he mentioned he was a great friend of Boris, and that Boris was right now in Italy, in Milan, with his show. He was working with Sam Goodman and Stanley Fisher, and they had exhibitions on the 10th Street. I said, “I love Boris’s work and I’d love to meet him.” He told Sam about me, that I might like to open up a gallery, and that Sam should get Boris to come back to New York and talk to me. So Boris flew back from Milan, from Arturo Schwarz’s gallery, and came to my house. I lived at 5th and 9th Street at that time, in the Village. When I met him, it was a miracle, because he was so much like me in the way he thought and in what he was interested in, and the art. At that time my house was full of things like Severini, Bauer and Léger, and those were the things I had collected since I was 16 years old – a lot of great paintings. These paintings cost nothing at that time. All the European dealers had come here broke and they would sell at very low prices. Since I was a kid, they would let me pay on the installment plan, so I was able to buy everything. And at that time when I met Boris, I was having to sell it, because my husband no longer had a job and I supported the whole family. I didn’t have to leave the house, I could sell pictures from my wall, and so became an art dealer from home. And then I thought about opening a gallery. That’s when I met Boris. We met and we just clicked. And we never left each other after that. That was it.
Relation with Boris
I thought that he was extremely attractive and extremely brilliant, and a wonderful human being, and exactly the kind of person I would like to be with. It was just amazing. We were like siblings in a sense, we had so much of the same qualities and the same attitudes towards life and the world. It was just an immediate friendship that never ended. First time I met him, I knew that he was the right person for me. And he was. We stayed together all those years. He had been married before to a very nice girl, Béatrice. I’m still in touch with her. But that didn’t last and she went back to France. Then I met him and from that point on we were together.
It developed through art and through his kindness, because I had been married. My husband was a very disturbed man. He had been in and out of a hospital for mental problems and he had been very brutal. Sometimes, when I called at the gallery – I opened a big black gallery on East 81st Street – I would come with bruises and I always would say I fell or something like that. Boris was the first person I knew that understood and was careful. Just a wonderful person to be around. He was so gentle. I think being in a concentration camp makes a man aware of everybody’s feelings. He just understood the pathos of everyone and that’s the way he was with his friends. On Boris Lurie21Głźżźęśł SżłćńHe was just a wonderful friend and a wonderful person to be with. Certainly, he was brilliant and his work was very exciting to me. I loved his work, we discussed it very often. Our relationship was based on his work, going to galleries together, to museums together, being together, traveling together. We were there all the time together. As a matter of fact, I had a dog at that time that my kids had brought back from a summer camp, and Boris loved the dog. So I brought her over to his house and he had Punch for the rest of his life. She was a great, great friend for him, a German Shepherd. He always reminded me he had what the Germans had. They had these Shepherd dogs in the concentration camps... but Boris took good care of her. We took Punch to hospitals when she got cancer. She had a big burial service out in Long Island, we buried her and had a ceremony. Boris loved that dog. She would help him a great deal through the bad times.
He mostly spent time with me at night, because he worked mostly nights and the days he slept. In the concentration camp the only way to get through the day was to sleep through it. So the night became the most important part of his life. We spent most of the time at night driving around. We had a little Austin Sprite. In the middle of the night we’d go to Chinatown and we would go to all the openings. He’d start late in the afternoon, and the mornings were always for him to sleep. He didn’t work much in the morning.
He always stayed poor in his life, I mean, even though he could have as much money as he wanted – out of his father’s money – he really didn’t have any. He had an income from the German government and that’s what supported him. Also, as his father helped him buy a building, he had some income from it, so his daily life was taken care of. And at some point he sued his father’s ex-partner, who tried to take part of his father’s estate, so he was in court a lot. He was in court a great deal of time. His daily life was full of lawyers, and in the night he was working with paintings, so he had a very busy life.
He was difficult with other people, but he was never difficult with me. He wanted people to live up to their obligations. Boris couldn’t take a liar. He was very moral. He was very sweet and kind to people and he would help people if he could, but if somebody was tough, like a businessman or a worker that was very tough, he was very tough with them. He wouldn’t let them get away with anything. One time he had such a fight with somebody that he had to hide away in my house, they were coming with a knife after him. So, I mean, he was very difficult with some people, but there were people he loved. He loved his friends. But then when one or two of his friends spoke against Israel (they liked the Palestinians), he stopped talking to them forever. He just broke all friendships with anybody talking this way about Israel. Particularly, he felt that Israelis should be protected. After his very good friend Ed Clark, the painter, said something terrible about Israel, Boris never spoke to him again. And that was it. He was very careful about who he spent time with. He didn’t want to spend time with anybody that disagreed with him. He was not democratic that way. His mother used to give him sandwiches with lettuce or something, and he would always change with his friends, because he wanted that fat – he had German tastes. So eating was a very important part of his life. After painting, eating, then walking. He walked a lot. All the time. New York is a walking city and we walked a great deal. He liked taking dog for a walk. The only way he’d get out in the morning was to take Punch to the park. So he had reason to get up in the morning and take the dog out, in this way he had some life in the morning sometimes. Watching a film. We went to see every Italian film and all the good films that came out. Fellini and all those people were part of his daily interest. He’d follow them and we’d see all the movies, that’s what we would do. And the reading. He read all the time. He was fascinated by history. He knew the history of the Holocaust, he knew the history of Rome, he knew the history of Russia. Remember, he never had any education after the age of 16, so he was self-educated in terms of history and geography. He was very good at those subjects. He knew the history of the Hebrew people very well. He spoke Hebrew – he spoke seven languages. He would eat up sources, he would just read and read and read, and they were all history books, I never saw him reading a novel. He did read some biographies, but very rarely. Mostly history, from Roman history all the way up to Israel.
He was very interested in Rabbi Luria, his relative, who lived in the 16th century. About Hebrew in the early times. He knew Hebraic sources all the way back to three, four, five thousand years ago. He was very well educated in that.
He always wrote. He wrote that he felt that the Americans had not helped the Europeans who were trying to escape. He wrote about how when he came to America, they didn’t want to know about the Holocaust, they didn’t want to talk about it, they didn’t want to show it. He caught his memories and he put them all down. We have his memoirs, I’m having it published. I’m having to analyze and put it together. When we got together, he became interested in this, and he put together House of Anita. He wrote letters to the New York Times all the time, they never published any, but he wrote a lot. He often used to write to praise Israel when they were getting bad press, but basically he was very involved with Germany and France and Italy, he loved those people. He was very interested in politics and Israel, he loved the Russian people, he loved the Germans. I mean, he never had any anger about the Germans and the concentration camps, never talked about that. As a matter of fact, it was just an experience he went through and he had no hatred for it, but he lived a life of a concentration camp victim. It came so early that it was embedded in his life. At 16 you’re still very flexible, and it was very hard, but he went through it, he came out and made very good friends with people from all over the world and he kept them. But he would write letters and sometimes they would publish him in various magazines. As a matter of fact, some of his texts are very good. They are all going to appear – I’m getting ready to print all his works and do a big biography.
He loved to travel. We traveled a great deal. We went to all the movies, all the openings, were very busy that way, and most of the time we just spoke and looked at paintings. He would ask me what I thought about each one that was finished, and he wanted me to give him an answer: “Why do you say that? What do you see there?” He was very careful about that. I remember him saying that Picasso used to do that with his wife at the time, Françoise – actually, she never married him. Picasso used to do that to her, ask her what she saw there – important boys used to do that. “What do you see there? What do you think about it? What do you think I’m trying to get at?” He would ask me all these questions, trying to get my input, which was very nice, because it gave me a chance to reflect and appreciate it.
I think Boris’s art was a breakthrough in the art market in America. He painted the American scene as he saw it. He wanted to live in France or Italy, but he said his work “emanates from the New York streets,” and that’s what he believed in. When he was sick and he was in bed with a bad foot, he saw all these girly magazines and that’s what started him getting involved with cut-outs and pinups and all the girlies, the whole thing they call “difficult” art. It was Boris’s way of showing New York as it really was. He was very political, he did a lot of political paintings and had joined some organizations to help people, but his art was all about pinups and statements, and Israel, and the Jews, and the Holocaust, and the future of the world, because he worried about it all the time. I mean, he didn’t want to see it happen again, none of us did, and he would take precautions by joining the organizations that were fighting against anti-Semitism and anti-Black and anti-... And the gallery had to do that, we would show things that were completely unmentionable to most people. And the collectors knew that, the other dealers knew that, and they took us for nutty people, but we never stopped it and we never sold a painting in the gallery, never sold a painting. So I supported it by selling pieces of my collection, which by that time had gone up enormously. The gallery cost less than 200 dollars a month, so we could do it easily.
We painted it black, and we had a garden in the back with just a brick stop, and that’s where Punch would stay and have a good time. And we put up a show. We did a big Shit Show there. And when we did it in this black gallery in the 60s, all the people showing up were pop artists. Everybody showed up. And what they did was on each piece they put the name of a dealer. People were getting very angry at us and we became notorious, but we also had other great shows of others. We had an Erró show, we had Kusama, Lebel, all these people, so we did a lot of interesting shows, but nothing was salable at that time. And so we just had a good time having these shows, having big openings, and I would sell my pieces, which went up, and I didn’t care. I mean, I’d just pay the rent. Everything was so cheap in those days – compared with now – we were able to do it for practically nothing. We could do anything we wanted, which no other dealer could. Even the museums couldn’t do what we did, because they had to care if people liked them – we didn’t care if people liked us. As a matter of fact, people would come and call us all kind of names. One lady said she was gonna throw up, one lady said she was gonna faint – they came to the Shit Show and they had this idea that it was real or something. It was incredible how it affected pop artists particularly. They came, people like Lichtenstein and everybody, it was incredible. And at that time we had Kusama. She was really a nut altogether, but a very, very good artist. She was a very good friend of Boris and ours. We had Lebel, and other good people, it was wonderful, Sam Goodman and Stanley Fisher, and other people would join us. That was a very interesting gallery, that’s all you can call it – an interesting gallery.
We spoke about art, generally. I don’t think we saw each other and we didn’t speak about it. If not his art, some other art, but somehow, art would come into the conversation. “Did you see this one, did you see that one?” and they were all artists, so we talked about it. Art would come in all the time, because it was basic. That’s where we both agreed and it was basic to talk about. I’d get a lot of insights, because Boris knew a lot about art that I didn’t, and I enjoyed it very much. He was always interested in the art world, talked about the money going on in the art world. He was amazed by it, he really was. A lot of money being spent on just anything. Like, if he’d come back for dinner and he said, “Where did you go?” and I told him where we went, and he said, “Well, how much did it cost!?” and I said, “I don’t know, I didn’t pay for it.” He was always impressed by that, that as an art dealer I didn’t have to pay for anything. He talked about it in the House of Anita book, he talked about it in the art dealer paragraph, which is very interesting. I was really happy. I was really entrenched in his work, and it was almost like my own work. You know what they say, an artist does what you feel and can’t do yourself, and that’s what he did – he did what I felt. And he explained it so well and with such passion and such intellect. I started out as an artist and the first work I did was expressionism, like German expressionism, it interested me a great deal. And Boris was really an Expressionist in his own way. I enjoyed his work and being his muse, anything he would want me to do, I would do – pose any which way. I didn’t take this seriously. I had no idea about what is decadent, what is not decadent, it was just what an artist wanted, it didn’t bother me at all. People thought it was very strange, but truly, I never thought of it as being strange or bad or good. It was just art, and Boris was making art. So I did whatever he asked me to do in terms of posing.
He considered it what he called NO!art – saying “no” to the establishment. Not to be intimidated by the establishment, by the authorized figures, who control the situation, both economically and socially. He was anti-establishment, and NO!art represented that. And it was NO!art against the pop-art mentality, art at art museums and galleries that were so interested in the finance of art. He commented about his art that it was pure, free of all that and he would never sell out. Like, we talked about Lichtenstein or Kline, who had to do the same thing in order to have a market. I remember Franz Kline’s dealer once telling me that Kline was always doing some red paintings, and Sidney Janis went down there and said, “You can’t do them anymore, I can’t sell red paintings by Kline.” Kline had to go back to painting black paintings. And Lichtenstein could never change his style. Once you have a style and audience, it changes you. It happened to Guston and other people, who would change their concept of art and no-one would buy them anymore, so they had to keep doing the same thing over and over. They were prisoners for the eternity of the museums and the art world. The galleries owned them, the museums owned them, and it was very tragic. Boris was particularly interested in never falling into that pattern.
He was very positive about everyone. He thought that everyone had their voice and could say what they wanted. He was never negative about an artist. He was nagging about pop-art, because he felt it was a commercial venture, but even in the pop artist, he appreciated the artist and he was friends with them. He never took a position that they were bad artists. He said they were painting for a different reason and they were making a market for them, which was just like any market, like shaving cream. But he was not against any of them. Many pop artists were his friends, Oldenburg, Lichtenstein, we knew them, we used to see them at the Cedar Bar, which was a famous place, where we would all meet, and he was very friendly with them. He particularly liked de Kooning, Kline and Rothko, the Abstract Expressionists that preceded him. They were very friendly with him and wrote some very nice things about him. Harold Rosenberg wrote very well about him, and he was the pusher of abstract-expressionism. Even the pop-art people respected Boris and the Shit Show made a big difference in his life. They realized that he was not one of them, that he was making a statement for himself and it could never be negotiated.
They all claim they were not pop artists, but even Kusama ended up in that role. The other pop artists – he respected them, but he particularly disliked Warhol. He was such an obvious man, who’d just paint for money, and I know Warhol, who used to come to my gallery and he used to trade me pieces like junk. He’d buy all kind of junk, but he knew how to make money, he understood art. He was polished, smart, poor. He was gay, he had a big gay audience and they all pushed him like crazy. He was pushed very hard by Castelli and Ivan Karp, and they really made a market for him. They realized early in life that you have to make a market. Castelli would have a big dealer, a big private person buy out the whole show, and they would resell it afterwards. So they could say the show was sold out, and he would resell the pictures for the person who owned them. I mean, there’s all kinds of funny things going on in the art world and the museum world. If you were in a museum and you could get a big donation, they would show your work. They did that with many people, the Metropolitan Museum, trying to get their collections together. Sotheby’s, for instance, hired only people whose parents had a collection or who come from wealthy homes. Everything is based on money, unfortunately.
Pornography in Boris’s art
Pornography was not something Boris thought much about. The fate of women was terrible, he felt, they had no chance. He joined many organizations to push for women’s art, and we did the first sculpture show for Kusama, we pushed her, then we had Michelle Stuart and a few other women in our group right away. And Boris was very careful to make sure that women were part of this organization, and that they had the right to be shown with us. We did that all the time, pushing them as much as we could, publicizing them in all the ads we took, and also just giving parties for them just as we did for the men. We treated them equally, and Boris was very fond of women and very careful about making sure that women had their rightful place.
I don’t think he felt there was such a thing as pornography. I mean, not unless people use it for unusual things, like sadomasochism or pederasty, stuff like that. Pin-ups were considered pornography, so I guess you would take him for a pornographer, but he was not. He was just showing the human side. Most people were very interested in going to clubs where people were undressing and stuff like that. He took no offense at that, he used to like those nightclubs too. He went to many of those pinup places and found them very exciting. They were visually attractive, and he used them in all his paintings. But he had nothing to do with pornography or prostitutes, he had no connections nor did he care, nor did he promote, nor did he not promote – it was not in his understanding at all. Pornography was not something he thought about. He was not a pornographer. He showed the seamier side of the world, but Hustler and Playboy, they were all there, there was no difference between Boris and them.
It’s what people wanted, I mean, it’s like if people want to smoke or they want to take dope, it’s up to them to do that. Boris was able to find a symbolic meaning, the humanity of people, their human needs and human desires – how to make it effective, how to use your life so that you get some pleasure out of life and you’re not restricted by the establishment. He really felt the world should be open to all this, and no restrictions at all. He didn’t believe in laws stopping anything – not prostitution, not sadomasochism. He didn’t feel that way. He felt everything should be available for that who want it without hurting other people. He was against hurting other people, but sadomasochism – if that was your thing, he had no objection to it, and he would say so openly.
Boris and the art market
That’s an interesting thing. Boris really wanted success, but he was deprived of it. You know, at that time to be successful, you had to have somebody in a museum, a curator interested in you, or a collector buying you up – and his experiences with them were terrible. When he would go to a gallery and show his work, there was one woman who screamed and ran out of the dealer’s. She couldn’t bear it. On the other hand, when he tried to get the pictures to the Museum of Modern Art, the guy there, William Lieberman On Boris Lurie33Głźżźęśł Sżłćńwould call him, he was gay and he tried to get Boris interested in him. Boris wasn’t, so they didn’t show his work. I mean, it was all about your own personal ability to help somebody. You could only have the actual success if there was somebody pushing you. I mean, it certainly was true of all pop artists, they all had someone pushing. And certainly, the homosexual group got all the pop artists started, starting out with Andy Warhol – they were all gay. Nothing wrong with it. They were pushed down so long, that they were getting their own back. They were very wise, Ivan Karp and all these people helped them, and certain collectors. I remember collectors coming and buying even five pieces, because they knew the prices would go up and they were going to be pushed. And that’s what artistic success is – who buys you. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. And not how you paint, but who’ll pay for it. As I always said to Boris, if anybody can paint a picture, it takes a genius to make a price for it. That’s what it is.
He was writing about the meaning of art, what he hopes to do with the art, how we can help people learn, get young people interested in important causes, to protect the weaker from the stronger, not to be overtaken by the establishment, as they say in The Godfather – people with strings, pushing us around. He didn’t want to be one of these people with strings. He believed he ought to do his own thing, in the way he wanted to, and nobody could stop him. And money was not the answer. He was not interested in making money. He was interested in getting his message across, because he had been through hell, and he wanted to make sure that hell would not continue to exist forever.
Originally Boris wanted all his money to go to Israel, but that was illegal. So he made a foundation, he wanted it to be for art. And all these people around him tried to get in there – they wanted to take over the foundation. The lawyer who acted for Boris hated Boris’s work, so when Boris died, he took it just the way it was and threw it in a dirty warehouse, not even wrapped, and it was valued at zero. I mean, because of taxes. Boris had written to me one time and wanted me to do something with the arts, and I have a letter to that effect, but the lawyer made him sign a contract saying that he was in control of everything. He knew nothing about art and so I had to go to court. So what happened was nobody wanted to take a case like that, fighting for the artist’s estate, so people would not take me seriously and they would say, “No, we can’t do anything.” I was walking around with a shopping bag with Boris’s painting, they thought I was a crazy creep. Then one of them was a smart ex-communist lawyer who was smart enough to meet me at my house. When he saw my house, he knew that I was good for the money if I had to pay up, so he found me a lawyer. He took me to this guy named Tony. I’d never met Tony before. I arranged for Tony to come and meet Boris to get this signed, so that, in the end, we would take care of the art. The contract said that if it didn’t go well, I’d owe them the money. I showed it to my friend, who had been disbarred. I think the best people who have advised me on law are people who are disbarred. When they’re disbarred, they’ve got nothing to lose, so they tell you the truth. Tony did a wonderful job, we got the estate and I started working like crazy. For two years I was just getting it cleaned up, getting ready for it to be stored, making the connections to do the shows. We worked very hard. So now I have two foundations, the Schaina and Josephina Lurje Memorial Foundation [SJLMF] and the Boris Lurie Art Foundation [BLAF]. The SJLMF was mostly a foundation for Boris’s mother and sister, for women in trouble, for cancer victims, for Holocaust victims – it’s very humane. Right now we are getting all the young women out of Pakistan who were raped and having children. We gave a lot of money to get them put in safe places, because once they’re raped, no one cares what happens to them. So we are picking them up and getting them out of country. SJLMF helps Soroka Hospital in Israel. We do a lot of work with people with eye troubles or cancer troubles. And the BLAF takes care of the art and literature, and we’ve been helping movies get made, three or four movies are right now being made – one about Rumbula. The SJLMF helps two of the emergency hospitals in New York. We are just now helping some people in East Hampton, women who are abused – we help them, we help women with cancer who don’t have any other help. We try to make up for the things that the government does not do. We are just trying to make people a little happier and a little less fearful of life. We get a lot of good things done.
Boris wanted people to look at his work and learn from it. The experience he had should be passed on to other generations and I think we’re doing that.
Boris knew that it took money to support art. It cost us thousands to put things back in order. Lichtenstein, Kline – they all have good foundations, but they were already known, they didn’t have to start from scratch. Nobody’s done what I’ve done: from scratch. Less than from scratch – from minus. It was zero, it was zero amount that the art was worth.
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