The Janco-Dada Museum is pleased to host this exhibition of Boris Lurie’s work on the centennial of the Dada movement. Lurie was born in Leningrad, in the former Soviet Union, in 1924. He died in New York in 2008 when he was 84 years old. As a child he moved with his family to Riga, Latvia, where he first became interested in art. This burgeoning passion was stemmed by the outbreak of the Second World War, in which Lurie lost almost his entire family. Together with his father, the two survivors arrived in the United States in 1946. Lurie soon joined the ebullient art scene of the 1950s. In 1959, he and fellow artists Sam Goodman and Stanley Fisher joined to soon later establish the NO!art movement – an alternative presence on the American art scene, which was to become dominated by pop art. The NO!art group were joined by additional artists such as Jean-Jacques Lebel, John Fisher, Allan D’Arcangelo, and others. Their work was first presented at the March Gallery in New York, as a protest against the dominant art forms on the New York art scene – including abstract expressionism and pop art. The March group held exhibitions such as the “Vulgar show,” the “Doom Show,” the “Involvement Show”, and the “NO!Show”. NO!art continued to exist as a radical group concerned with political themes both in New York and in Berlin (after 1996). Their goal was to transform art into a tool for attacking political attitudes such as fascism, racism, colonialism, and imperialism.
There are researchers who viewed NO!art work as coming closest to what could be termed Neo-Dada and as a response to the dominance of abstract art, which replaced abstraction with a Dadaist representation of reality focused not on imitation, but rather on the appropriation and quotation of familiar cultural images. Lurie’s unique artistic language combines personal memories of the horrors of the Holocaust and a radical protest against the falsity pervading both society and art. His oeuvre’s distinct place in the American art world of the 1960s endows it with great importance.
This exhibition centers on six series chosen from Lurie’s wide-ranging body of works, in an attempt to underscore both the explicit and the implicit connections of his oeuvre to the Dada movement and to Marcel Janco: the central series, “NO!”, features works in a range of techniques. The main image in each of the works is composed of these two letters, which Lurie manipulates visually to distill the idea of protest. Additional series that expand upon this concept are a group of compositions which similarly makes use of words, and a series of collages based on pornographic photographs blurred by layers of paint. An additional group of works focuses on figures of dismembered and reassembled women. The rejection of existing forms and the creation of new forms were central themes in Dada art, and they are intriguingly explored in Lurie’s work. Initially, the women appear as a harrowing memory of the Holocaust, yet the aesthetic appearance of the images reveals that Lurie has developed a new formal language for treating the human figure, which can be compared to his treatment of words. The fifth group contains three-dimensional works: knives inserted into clumps of concrete alongside piles resembling excrement. The sixth group stands out among the other series: it consists of a small number of drawings portraying dancing couples, which are uncharacteristic of Lurie’s work. Their inclusion in the exhibition creates a dialogue with the figures of dancers in Marcel Janco’s well-known Dada works. A sustained observation of these works causes one to wonder whether they portray a dance or a struggle.
This exhibition is a cooperation with the Boris Lurie Art Foundation, NYC