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Boris Lurie


NO!art, founded in 1960 by Lurie with Sam Goodman and Stanley Fisher, was primarily a strong reaction of the artists against the establishment. Its main intent was to address the less pleasant social realities, glossed over by the mainstream art, and to prompt for immediate action and social reform versus accepting the prevalent beautified version of reality. From such a platform, NO!art positioned itself directly in conflict with the glossy homage of consumerism celebrated by Pop art, and the already established high art, Abstract Expressionism, the two movements dominating the art scene at the time. As a result, the NO!art artists were largely ignored by the general public and the establishment, while gaining a cult following.


Boris Lurie (1924-2008)

NO!art Bag, 1974

oil paint, canvas, and paper collage on burlap bag

40.5 x 21.25 inches


The theme choices often reference the historical context (sexual references hint to the mainstream repression at the time, as well as to the commercialization of sex, while the superimposition of war and extermination imagery stems from recent memories and from a need to shock in order to press for social reform). A NO!art artwork is definitely not a commodity or a decorative background, but more likely is meant to evoke wounds which are not healed, and which have been superficially hidden by the fabric of everyday life in 1960s US. In the same time, it represents a reaction against what the NO!art artists considered a fake, edulcorated version of events. The artworks incorporate photography, collage from newspapers and other sources, found objects and advertising banner words. One can see distorted female figures, obliterated faces, covered in scratches, words such as NO, AVOID, BLEED or SHARK BAIT. The surface of the artwork is not glossy, and the message is that another layer of disturbing imagery or information could exist in the social palimpsest, and it should be excavated. While the Dadaist and Surrealist filiation is evident, there is also a desperate need for authenticity and confronting life without attempting to hide its dark sides and to prompt the public to accept the need for social reform and openness as a cure for alienation.


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The female figures that populate his work, from the Dismembered Women Series (1955-57), through the Dancehall (1955), Black Figures (1957-58) and Three Women (1955-57) Series, to the Love (1963) and Pin-ups (1960-1964) Series must be understood through the matrix of the imponderable pain the loss of those dearest to him would inflict. The futile longing for their simple presence by his side, the desperate imaginings of what might have been -- for them far more so than for himself -- had the world not fallen into the clutches of evil, and the constant recognition that violence and inhumanity are equally a danger inherent in the everyday relations of the strong to the weak, the rich to the poor, and male to female, would inform his art even as he matured into the uncompromising radical his later work reveals. Because Lurie’s passion, or rather, compassion for the subject is so multifarious, his fundamental and overwhelming sympathy for women is sometimes misunderstood, especially in the later work, as unwholesome sexual obsession. The mirror he holds up to society is sometimes mistaken for the un-selfconscious mirror of his soul; his own, evidently vigorous, sexuality, forever colored, and indeed perhaps somehow stunted, by the camp experience, is rendered suspect by the insistent proximity of violence and death. His Dismembered Women, Pin-Ups, and Love Series, among others, at once assert that the objectification of women is violence against women and that female sexuality is a fundamental and ineradicable force, ideas difficult at best to incorporate in a single work.