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YES! ... but is it ART?
Published in: NO!art, catalog, NGBK, Berlin 1995
When I think of NO!art I think of Boris Lurie. From NO!art I think Pop Art, which to me means Warhol. Boris told me that NO!art started as a group in the late 50's and ended in 1965 where as Pop Art came along about 1960-61, and exploded onto the Art world and into media consciousness by '63. Both artists used commercial objects, Boris: chains, plates, machetes, Warhol: electric chairs, Brillo Boxes, coca cola. Warhol attached significance to the object, even stole the Campbell soup art work from a grocery shelf can and from a corporate designer who shall remain nameless. Boris used the object to communicate the weight of pain, the horrors of being a Jewish concentration camp survivor. His direction of aesthetics was more European traditional oriented and a protest against the inequalities of life. A dirty intellectual protest of aesthetics, not the clean, funny, upper middle-class French Dada. Pop Art, by comparison, was frivolous, but after Warhol was shot by a distraught Lesbian, dangerous vibes were attached to the movement.
Warhol's art was all American into 'today': "What's up? What's happening? What's the next big thing?" The concentration on pain and suffering in NO!art seems almost Christian.
Warhol, a devout Catholic, was supported by a large American Jewish group who bought art. NO!art was too personal. In the 60's Jews were dissimulating into middle American TV life images: Father Knows Best, Bin Tin Tin, Leave it to Beaver. In America there was no real interest in the Holocaust question and certainly no economic support, not like today when the holocaust has become a lucrative business.
Both groups attracted a large audience. Pop Art was glamorous, Hollywood-Camelot inspired, drag oriented, whereas NO!art wanted to appear non fashion oriented, the look was "poor", "cheap", "looking working class", "simple". But both were elitist. What 60's working class family would go to a 'Shit' Show?
The 'Shit Show' at first glance seemed part of the new attraction towards narcissism. Creating shit, art from your own bowels, displayed in a public space. This art, although an object, was meant to be an viewed as an abstraction about color, texture, surface NO!-odor. Abstract Expressionism was only about painting problems. Shit and the Holocaust were still taboo subjects.
Pop was more traditional in use of materials, and more materialistic. The Warhol party scene paved the way for elitist clubs like Studio 54 and all it's offshoots: only the 'right people' were admitted. Boris and Warhol both lived on the same New York City block on the conservative, snobbish Upper East Side. Both did there public presentations in the downtown area. Neither was personally inspired by drugs, but Warhol, like his literary counter parts, the Beats, came to symbolized a glamorous decadent world of drug addiction: pied pipers for the New World disorder.
NO!art and Pop Art re-introduced the, Object, but NO!art deleted the essence. And meanwhile, the real art revolution in America was taking place totally outside of this art world. Zap comic book artists like Robert William, Robert Crumb, and the Big Daddy Roth phenomenon influenced the whole of American culture. Pollock, growing up in 40's Kansas State, had very little real relationship to higher culture, which he then imagined or learned in latter life. Your experience while growing up is what is in your bones. The underground and comic book artists transcended a lot of different cultures. A completely capitalistic venture that sold for pennies. And 10's of thousands of comics were sold. NO!art and Pop Art depended on Patronage, not on mass marketing.
Pop Art created a new kind of dealer. Art dealers like Betty Parsons, the previous generation, were educated well off whites who enjoyed having romantically poor artists hanging around, but giving them no real economic assistance. The Pop artists hooked up with elegant Italian businessman Leo Castelli who embodied the American entrepreneurial spirit, capitalist motivation, media articulation, the age of Aquarius, good economy, and the possibility to make his 'stable' rich and famous. NO!artists were not against sales but had to contend with their idealistic, non materialistic point of view, like a vow of poverty. Both groups were youthful defiant. In Pop Art the fashion was Artificial Woman, movie stars drag Queens, and gay oriented. Not a good school for a woman. The stance of the NO!artists was macho, ready, asking tough questions, bars and parties, but no drug fixation. This club was openly heterosexual: 40% of the movement were women.
Pop Art elevated common images and icons to the level of high art. NO!art took high art and reduced it to shit.
Both groups had main stream art waters behind them. NO!art had the New York Times, Tom Wolfe, Thomas Hess, Dore Ashton. But Business was behind Pop Art. Both Boris and Warhol worked the system as Capitalists. Warhol published a magazine, collected art and objects that increased in value. Boris edited a book, collected art and made money on the stock market.
Although Boris has a much less precious position about his collection. If it survived the toll of existence then it will be here. Otherwise not. Warhol created a foundation to assist artists.
NO!art appeared to be Anarchistic, but the Anarchist fork was stuck in deeply during the Pop Culture, a movement that helped to establish a new decadence undermining the physical state of society.
NO!art protested bomb testing and the Art World; Pop Art protested nothing. Warhol's eight hour extravaganza one camera one angle shot film watching the Empire State Building was about boredom and a study in Masochism. Boredom is a long way from the horrors of War.
The black grey darkness of NO!art is almost the feeling of the world today, the needed stripping away of the veneer. This seems like a time when those touchy questions need to be asked again. Pop Art may have been less naive than one thinks, like the children's rhyme: Campbell soup, makes me poop, down my leg, and in my boot. Shit culture. The nihilism of today, in the age of AIDS, requires some reflection and the seriousness of NO!art. The Pop Art/Beats decadence has permeated society now manifesting drugs, chaos, and despair. Lets finally get to the questions of NO!art and move on!