PRINT September 1963

NO is an Involvement

THE SUBJECT IS ONLY a means of fixing our attention on appearances and inducing us to penetrate these appearances to reach the spirit of the work. Man mat­ters before everything. The whole work refers first of all to him and to the quality of emotion the artist has been able to transmit to his work. The subject is never actually an event, but rather the order (or deliberate disorder) which the mind is able to establish between events. Mingled with the subject are our moral or re­ligious feelings, the instincts that determine our acts, and the passions that at once make us cruel and com­passionate.

Pure abstraction can contain emotions by the rec­titude of a line or edge, the drama in a stroke, the silence itself, but too often it is pretentiously eso­teric. The artists at the March* did not suppress the recognizable images which were provided by inner currents of sensual exaltation and sentiments which concerned the development and fate of the whole human species.

Art is stronger than morality and also more inno­cent. These men are first of all artists, protesting ar­tists, but not social realists. One finds no rigid mes­sage or standard discipline here. They are suggest­ing, experimenting, rebelling, in an essentially roman­tic manner. The romantic’s job is not to purify but to intensify, not to resolve but to stimulate. The as­semblages, paintings, collages and sculptures that have been created (and sometimes destroyed) in the March have answered nothing. But they have asked, many times in anguish, questions that should con­cern us all. The area of values is described by the titles given each exhibit: The Vulgar Show, The Doom Show, The Involvement Show.

In their impatience with an art separated from life, these artists have employed objects scavenged from life itself. They give form and importance to the ref­use of our popular culture.

Sam Goodman has salvaged from the abundant trash barrels, garbage heaps, and overflowing gutters of New York carcasses of TV sets, play guns, mangled dolls, crutches, airplanes, bombs, bibles, toy cash registers, crucifixes, even a globe of the world. As he assembles these objects the toy guns turn into threat­ening weapons, the dolls into frightening reminis­cences of the charred bodies of Hiroshima or Ausch­witz, the Bible a purity degraded, and the cash regis­ter a demoralizing symbol of power.

We can act only in terms of our own time, which in a space of fifty years has uprooted, enslaved, or killed seventy million human beings. We must question our innocence. Mr. Goodman is asking us to do just that.

Stanley Fisher’s maniacs and monsters in their kaleidoscopic confusion we might possibly see walking the streets, if we ever managed to transcend our con­ditioned reality. The irrationality and barbarism of the crowd, the tension, the toothpaste-cigarette ad landscape actually does exist. In dismembered assem­blages and collages he explores with hot color and aggression the prism of sin with puritanical delight.

Boris Lurie’s large collage-transfer-paintings swirl in a frenzy of flesh. They are filled with the lace-pan­tied, balloon-breasted nudes, Venuses and Harpies at once, which signal the distortion of values within our society. Real fulfillment for the man who allows ab­solutely free rein to his desires and who must domi­nate everything, lies in hatred. Lurie says “Liberty or Death,” but not libertinism on any level. His recent “NO” paintings recall Camus: “What is a rebel? A man who says no, but whose refusal does not imply a renunciation. He is also a man who says yes, from the moment he makes his first gesture of rebellion.” The disorder in these searing collages expresses an aspi­ration to order. Lurie’s rebellion is a wish for clarity and unity. This is our reality and unless we choose to ignore it, we must find our values in it.

Since 1948 Lurie has incorporated unaltered pinups of our wench world from Tinker Bell to cinema aristoc­racy, as well as total ad objects such as Heinz Bean cans, prophecying later cans and later queens. Signs and photos of violence and injustice pattern these pinup echoes of Eve which at once become obses­sional private fantasies and symbols of the wholesale bacchanals of death with which we are familiar.

The March Gallery group is one more example of the continuing need of the artist to re-evaluate and re­define his world, using all conceivable means to re­main vital. Since the rapture we get through art out of life is conditioned by everything including its hor­ror, the aim of art is, in the final analysis, to wring from us our consent to life.

Michelle Stuart



*Since 1959, the March Gallery (a New York City artists’ cooperative located in a basement on 10th Street) has pre­sented group exhibitions concentrating on social issues. Re­actions, whether negative or positive, generally have been heated both in New York and in Europe.

Among the artists participating in these events were Boris Lurie, Sam Goodman, Gloria Graves, Augustus Goertz, Stanley Fisher, and Michelle Stuart.