Many were created more than fifty years ago, but have lost none of their potential to rattle cages, to polarise opinion and to test the boundaries of tolerability.
Boris Lurie’s comprehensive and controversial works will be presented in the NS Documentation Centre in Cologne as of 27 August 2014.
The exhibition – developed in cooperation with the Boris Lurie Foundation in New York and under the curatorial direction of gallery owner Gertrude Stein – features the first impressive works created directly after Lurie’s release from Buchenwald concentration camp, as well as works from the 1940s and 1950s that have never been seen in Europe before. A selection of his impressive sculptural works from the 1970s will also be presented for the first time in the basement.
The profoundly human existentialism and peculiarly European characteristics that inform his works – and, not least, his aggressively political outlook – made Lurie something of an outsider in a New York art world in thrall to abstract expressionism and pop art, a state of affairs that endured until his death in 2008.
Born in Riga in 1924 to a wealthy Jewish middle-class family, the artist experienced the catastrophes and upheavals of the 20th century at first hand.
Together with his father, he survived the Stutthof and Buchenwald concentration camps. His mother, grandmother, younger sister and childhood sweetheart were all murdered in the Massacre of Rumbula, near Riga, in 1941.
Lurie described himself as a privileged concentration camp survivor who quickly gained a foothold as a translator in post-war Germany, emigrating to New York with his father in 1946, where he lived and worked for the rest of his days. He never played the victim: the horrors that he experienced were never worn on his sleeve in the artistic circles that he sought out in New York. However, he formulated his resistance to the powerlessness and violence that descended upon and dominated his life during his formative years with a decisive NO.
The NO!art group of artists that he co-founded in 1958 stood in sharp contrast to abstract expressionism and pop art. Imperialism, racism, sexism, rampant consumerism and the nuclear threat were the themes explored by the artist group, who were only together for a few years.
Describing the difficult and frequently ignored position of the polemical group in a later interview, Lurie said: “Back then, art always had to be indirect – we were too subjective and too political”.
In addition to numerous poems in Baltic German, Boris Lurie wrote novels and stories. Some of the manuscripts, photos and original documents can also be seen at the exhibition.