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A R T W O R K S
NO is an Involvement (1961)
The subject is only a means of fixing our attention of 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 substruction 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 recognisable images which were provided by inner currents of sexual 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 no social realists. One finds no rigid message or standard discipline here. They are suggesting, 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 Gallery 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 exhibition: 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, airplaines, 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 demoralising symbol of power.
We can act only in the terms of our 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 colors 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-painted, balloon-breasted nudes, Venuses and Harpies at once, which signal the distortion of values within our society. Real fulfilment for the man who allows absolutely free reign to his desires and who must dominate everything, lies in hatred. Lurie says: "Liberty or Death", but not libertinism at any level. His recent NOlpaintings 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 express 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 pin-ups of our wench world from the lowdowns 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 obessional private phantasies 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 re-define 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 the wring from us our consent of life.