Boris Lurie in America: He Had the Courage to Say NO!

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26 JANUARY - 26 APRIL 2020








CENTER FOR CONTEMPORARY POLITICAL ART (CCPArt) Exhibition Dates: 26 January – 26 April 2020 In collaboration with the Boris Lurie Art Foundation Curators: Charles Krause and Robin Strongin Essays: Robin Strongin, Charles Krause, Dr. Dorothea Dietrich, Dr. Eva Fogelman All texts © authors Artwork images © the Boris Lurie Art Foundation Catalogue Design: Rich Webster, Richard Media Company Matt Landini, Bluelight Strategies

Copyright © 2020 Center for Contemporary Political Art. All rights reserved. This book may not be reproduced without written permission from the publisher. ISBN: 978-0-578-63542-2

The Center for Contemporary Political Art 916 G Street NW, Washington DC 20001

CCPArt BOARD Charles Krause, Founding Director Robin Strongin, Co Founder Phyllis Greenberger K. Chris Todd

We wish to thank the Boris Lurie Art Foundation (BLAF) and especially its president, Gertrude Stein, for making this exhibition possible. We also wish to acknowledge the assistance of the BLAF Board of Directors: Joi Grieg, Amy Korenvaes, Anthony Williams and advisor to the board, Rafael Vostell, as well as BLAF Collections Manager Elizabeth Miseo and BLAF Assistant Registrar Patrick Gora.



Stenciled NOs, 1963 Acrylic paint on canvas 13.5 x 30 in.



In memory of Boris, Elja, Shaina and Jeanne Lurie. Being caught up in a historic tragedy motivated Boris to spend his life keeping alive the hopes he had for peace, expressed in his work. Gertrude Stein



EXHIBITION OVERVIEW A contemporary of Rauschenberg, Warhol, Lichtenstein and Johns, Boris Lurie arrived in New York in 1946, having survived nearly four years in Hitler’s concentration camps. He was just 21. Over the next 60 years, his art became his life, his refuge, his therapy and his means of protesting the racism, anti-Semitism and social hypocrisy he encountered in the United States; its Cold War nuclear rivalry with the Soviet Union; and its interventionist policies abroad. In 1959, he, Sam Goodman and Stanley Fisher founded the NO!art movement, reflecting Lurie’s views that artists should use their talent to protect and defend the interests of the people in the communities and countries where they live. This exhibition, a retrospective look at Lurie’s political art created between 1959 and 1964, shows the breadth and depth of his concerns. At this difficult time in our history, it is our hope that Boris Lurie’s legacy, his art and his courage, will serve as an inspiration for artists everywhere to express their political views in their art, to increase awareness and understanding of the political issues we’re confronted with today.



NOs with Skull and Crossbones, 1963 Acrylic and spray paint on plywood 25 x 23 in.




Boris Lurie in his studio 1977 by Joseph Schneberg



Loins of Pork

The right to say NO is an indispensable precondition for humanity.1 The term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can be wholly inadequate, a real disservice to survivors. There was nothing “post” about Boris Lurie’s trauma. He lived it every day. In the end, it wasn’t work that set him free.2 It was his art. The artist Aldo Tambellini, one of Lurie’s friends, shared in his autobiographical novel3 that: The unimaginable horror of his childhood and coming of age in Nazi Germany formed in Boris a strong and uncompromising sense of purpose in his art and an independent spirit that set him apart from his contemporaries. Hearkening back to Dada and Expressionism and forward to Conceptual Art (which some of his work from the 1950s anticipates), Boris brought a strong political component and a pointed awareness of the devastation of the Holocaust to bear in his work, elements not acceptable to the Art Establishment of the 1950s and 1960s. Art, trauma, and a sense of rebellion bound us together as best friends till the end.

1. Schwartz, Emanuel K., and Reta Shacknove Schwartz. “NO-Art: An American Psycho-Social Phenomenon.” Leonardo, vol.4, no. 3, 1971. pp. 245-54. JSTOR. www. 2. Refers to Arbeit Macht Frei –German for Work Will Set You Free—the words appeared on the gates at the entrance to Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps. 3. House of Anita, by Boris Lurie, No Art Publishing, 2010, Edited by Terence Sellers and John Wronoski. Back Cover.



Saturation Painting (Buchenwald)



Lurie bravely ripped off his mask, revealing his most intimate scars. His work is not for the faint of heart. Those who have the strength not to look away, the ability to stomach the stench of atrocity, and the willingness to take the time to understand the excruciating insights and layered statements Boris Lurie communicated are rewarded with his brutal truths. Lurie translated his trauma into social and political art masterpieces. He couldn’t stay quiet when he saw the same destructive forces that brought about his trauma--the execution of his grandmother, mother, sister, and girlfriend at Rumbula followed by four years in multiple concentration camps, suspended between life and death--rear up and gain traction in the U.S., manifesting themselves in the form of McCarthyism, extreme nationalism, racism, antiSemitism, sexism, injustice, and greed. “NO-art is a swing away from McCarthyism that demanded absolute submission. The No-artist says, ‘NO! We will make rebellion!’ They pour dung on conformism, on art games and estheticisms but never on life. Sometimes, it seems, in desperation they even did that. In some ways the dung, the denial, the provocation became the art itself, became their hope for self-hood, for selfrespect, for survival in a world that said: ‘The individual human being cannot survive except if he gives up his humanity.’ For them, in the midst of revolution, it was the highest duty to revolt.”4

Immigrant’s NO Suitcase (Anti-Pop)

Lurie not only ripped off his own mask, he stripped away the ugly hypocrisy of post-WW II power brokers—politicians and self-anointed arbiters of taste who dominated intellectual and artistic institutions, profiteering as they created what Boris called the “investment art market,” all while strutting about under the banner of a cultural avant-garde. Boris would have none of it. Swindlers continue profiting and storm clouds continue swirling. NO!art has as much relevance today as it did in the days after the war when Boris Lurie, Sam Goodman, and Stanley Fisher organized their radical movement. As Julia Kissina wrote in Boris Lurie in Riga: A Memoir, “The sum total of Lurie’s art is a stark warning of sleeping fascism and its possible awakening at any moment.”5

NO Sculpture (Shit Sculpture)

We would be wise to heed that warning. Looking away is not an option.

4. Schwartz, Emanuel K., and Reta Shacknove Schwartz. “NO-Art: An American Psycho-Social Phenomenon.” Leonardo, vol.4, no. 3, 1971. pp. 245-54. JSTOR. www. 5. Kissina, Julia. Boris Lurie in Riga: A Memoir. No Art Publishing. 2019. P. xiv.




NO Record



I have wanted to present a major exhibition of Boris Lurie’s art in Washington since 2014, when I was fortunate enough to see his drawings and paintings hanging on the walls, and his sculptures displayed in the subterranean torture chambers, at Appellhofplatz 23-25 in Cologne. For two months that summer and fall, the “decadent art” of a Jewish artist, who had somehow survived nearly four years in Nazi work and death camps when he was a teenager, was installed in the same building that served as Gestapo headquarters in Cologne when he was being held captive in Buchenwald, 250 miles away. It was a stunning exhibition of extraordinary art that Lurie created after he was freed from Buchenwald in 1945 and came to live in New York in 1946, when he was just 21 years old. What seemed strange was that Lurie had created the art in his New York studio half a century or more ago, yet many of the pieces were being publicly exhibited for the first time, ever, when I saw them in Germany six years ago.

Exterior of Old Gestapo Headquarters Exhibition Image in Old Gestapo Headquarters

It also seemed strange that no one I knew had ever heard of Boris Lurie until I told them about him, or until they read what I wrote about the exhibit, which I nominated for Best Art Exhibit of 2014. I began my report this way: “If you believe that the kind of racial and religious hatred that fueled the Holocaust has no place in a civilized world, there was no more important or instructive exhibit anywhere in Europe or the United States this year than the exquisite and profoundly moving retrospective of Boris Lurie’s drawings, collages, paintings and sculpture at Appellhofplatz 23-25 in Cologne. “Seeing Lurie’s assemblages and several of his other Holocaust-related works displayed in a building once occupied by Hitler’s Gestapo was uplifting, a reminder that Good does, from time to time, triumph over Evil.” Six years ago, the exhibit I would have presented most probably would have focused on the Dismembered Women paintings and transfers he first began painting in the early 1950s and returned to, in one medium or another, for most of his life. They are the visual manifestation of the guilt, impotence and loss he suffered and felt, having been unable to prevent the extermination of his mother, sister, grandmother and first girlfriend, with whom he was in love, in 1941, shortly after the Germans invaded Latvia.

Altered Photos: Pinup (Body)

In 2014, it would have been almost impossible to imagine how much the world would change over the next six years. Or how much more relevant and important Lurie’s art would become. BORIS LURIE: He Had The Courage To Say NO! is a retrospective exhibition of the political art Lurie created between 1959 and 1964. It was during these years that he applied what he understood to be the lessons of the Holocaust to what he saw happening in his adopted country, the United States. He did so in the form of his NO! paintings; Altered Portrait transfers (protesting the onset of the Vietnam War); pinups; suitcase assemblages; and a suite of spectacular Adieu Amerique paintings,



among them his masterpiece, Lumumba Is Dead (Adieu Amerique), from 1959-61. These paintings, collages and transfers were originally shown under the banner of the NO!art movement, which Lurie co-founded in New York in 1959 and with which he was actively engaged until the last NO!art show, The NO! Sculpture Show, held at Gallery: Gertrude Stein on East 81st Street and immortalized by Tom Wolfe, in 1964. The first lesson he sought to convey in these works (to a largely unreceptive Greatest Generation still believing the United States could do no wrong after leading the Allies to victory in WWII) was that it is absolutely futile and foolhardy for Jews to think they can defeat anti-Semitism and racism by trying to assimilate and hide.

Lumumba is Dead (Adieu Amerique)

That’s what the German Jews tried to do in the 30s and what Lurie saw American Jews trying to do two decades after the end of World War II. The second lesson he sought to convey with his art was that a nation willing to use its military power to expand its territory and influence, in the belief that its racist ideology is superior, must be stopped. What the Holocaust taught Lurie, if no one else at the time, was that a racist nation intent upon expanding its influence, like the Third Reich, is, by definition, a threat to world peace. When Lurie looked at the United States of the 1950s and early 60s, he saw Nazi Germany in the 30s and decided he had to make his views known. Lumumba is Dead (Adieu Amerique) is the fullest realization of his effort and is, in my opinion, one of the 20th century’s greatest political paintings, on par with Picasso’s Guernica. He was trying to stop the United States from turning the decolonized nations of Africa and Asia into the Cold War battlefields they became. Lumumba is brilliantly described, its symbolism and references explained by Dorothea Dietrich in her essay elsewhere in this catalogue; when I first saw the painting, hanging on the wall of the old Gestapo headquarters building in Cologne, I was stunned by its power and its imagery. Of course, I supposed the swastika at its center represented Nazi Germany. Only later did I learn the swastika represented the United States and that “Adieu Amerique” referred to Lurie’s decision, never acted on, to leave New York to return to live in Europe because of his disillusion with the United States. When I first saw his Altered Portraits of Henry Cabot Lodge, I was also mistaken about their meaning. I thought they were Lurie’s commentary on the 1960 presidential election (Lodge was Nixon’s running mate). Only later did I realize that in 1963, Lodge was the U.S. ambassador to Saigon and the Altered Portraits were Lurie’s early protest against the War in Vietnam.

Altered Man (Cabot Lodge)

Meanwhile, his Railroad Collage (Railroad to America), also from 1963, and his suitcase assemblages from this period, infuriated many of the Jewish collectors and other American Jews who saw them. It didn’t matter that Lurie was a survivor; the consensus view was that Railroad Collage (Railroad to America) was pornographic and disrespectful to those who died in the Holocaust. Lurie, whose diffident personality was sometimes his worst enemy, saw no reason to defend or explain. For a more nuanced understanding of Lurie’s intentions and how second and third generation survivors see it, please read both the Dietrich essay and Fogelman



essay in this catalogue; they are both the work of experts with deep knowledge of their respective disciplines. What I will say here is that Railroad Collage (Railroad to America) is an extraordinarily powerful work that, once seen, is not easily (or ever) forgotten. Created by an artist of considerable talent, his work from the NO!art years deserved (and still deserves) to be seen and recognized as important, even if controversial and distasteful, to some. Jackson Pollack’s drip paintings and Andy Warhol’s soup cans were also controversial and dismissed as the work of would-be artists not to be taken seriously; certainly, I would hazard a guess that no one, at first, ever imagined they would emerge as two of the 20th century’s ten most influential and important artists.

Railroad Collage (Railroad to America)

I would argue that the reason Lurie was essentially blacklisted after 1964 and written out of the history of 20th century art, so far, was not because his work wasn’t important but because it was political; meant to make its viewers angry and outraged, not envious and greedy. He wanted his art to inspire people at the ballot box or in the streets, to force change to create a better world – not to inspire the frenzied paddle wars that have turned Sothebys and Christies into the casinos of our Second Gilded Age. Boris Lurie’s work is still extraordinarily powerful. We can only hope showing it now, isn’t too late.




Boris Lurie in his studio 1977 color photo by Joseph Schneberg



Can we still recapture the urgency of oppositional art and make it ready for our own needs and re-inscribe into today’s artistic practice Boris Lurie’s proclamation:

“In a time of wars and exterminations, aesthetic exercises and decorative patterns are not enough....Art is a tool of influence and urging. We want to talk, to shout, so that everybody can understand. OUR ONLY MASTER IS TRUTH.”1 Artists who purposefully put themselves at the margin to claim a space for freedom of expression and social or political critique do not find a ready place in today’s art market, are labeled tendentious, and more often than not become invisible and are omitted from the annals of art history. Or, if discovered by dealers and collectors, are either forced to ever more radical expression to avoid commodification to maintain their independence or end up compromised, adjusting their work to fit more readily with collectors’ aesthetics, the art market, and political or social preferences. A small group of artists who first met at the March Gallery (one of several artist cooperatives on Tenth Street in New York) and not long after banded together to form the No!art Group in 1959 claimed precisely that space. Boris Lurie (19242008), Sam Goodman (1919-1967) and Stanley Fisher (1926-1980), as well as a number of associated local and international artists, including the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, who was then working in New York, launched a relentless and unvarnished critique of current American politics and society. Mounting in quick succession a series of highly controversial shows with provocative titles—The Vulgar Show (1960), Involvement Show (1960), Doom Show (1961), NO! Sculpture Show/Shit Show (1964)—first at the March Gallery, later at the uptown Gallery: Gertrude Stein, they quickly gained visibility and notoriety. The most active period of the NO!artists lasted from 1959-64. It coincided with the rise of Pop Art and it will be instructive to consider the divergent fates of each group for the possibilities and survival of a critical art. Boris Lurie and his fellow NO!artists saw for art a more important place than becoming a consumer good and instead sought to preserve for visual representation the ability to make visible the mechanisms of power and carve out a place for critique in a growing consumer and entertainment culture. All three founders of the group had been deeply affected by the war and decried postwar amnesia, all three were Jewish, but for Lurie the concern was even more deeply personal and urgent: he was a survivor of the Holocaust. Lurie was born in Leningrad into a prosperous family, the father, Ilja Lurie, a highly successful merchant, the mother, Shaina, née Chaskin, a dentist, as the youngest child of three, with two older sisters, Jeanne and Assya. Not long after his birth the family moved to Riga, the capital of Latvia, when after Lenin’s death the Soviet government disowned all capitalists and confiscated Ilja’s businesses. The family reestablished itself in Riga until the Germans invaded Latvia in June of 1941. Riga became the site of a Jewish ghetto and the place of one of the most horrendous massacres committed by the Nazis, at Rumbula, in the woods outside the city, where 25,000 Jews were murdered over the course of two days on November 30th

1. Boris Lurie, Involvement show statement (1961), in Boris Lurie and Seymour Krim, No!art. Pin-ups, Excrement, Protest, Jew-Art, Berlin/Cologne, Edition Hundertmark, 1988, 39.



and December 8th, including a transport train of Jews rounded up in Berlin—one of the first trial runs of Nazi extermination politics besides Babi Yar in Ukraine, before the establishment of the extermination camps. Lurie lost his grandmother, mother, his sister Jeanne (Assya was out of the country) and his love, Lubja Treskunova, in the massacre. He and his father survived in the “Small Ghetto” reserved for able men; in the subsequent years, Lurie and his father were moved to different camps, from Lente and Salaspils near Riga to the forced labor sections of the concentration camps Stutthof and Buchenwald/Magdeburg-Polte, where they were liberated on April 18, 1945 by U.S. forces. Both father and son emigrated to New York in 1946 and joined Assya, who was then married to an Italian diplomat and lived in the city. Boris Lurie, by then a young man of 22, took some art classes while at the Art Student League where he studied with Reginald Marsh, while trying to find footing in the city. When co-founding the NO!art group, Lurie, Goodman and Fisher minced no words: as an affront to Cold War American silence about the Holocaust, the continued contemporary anti-Semitism as well as pervasive U.S. racism, and characterized their art “Jew-art,” adopting the very term the Nazis had used to denigrate Jewish art as inferior and “degenerate” and protested that anti-Semitism was well and alive in post-World War II societies. All three adopted and further developed art processes expressive of the destruction and discontinuity, collage and assemblage, as well as Happenings (Sam Goodman) and resorted to a form of realism derived at through the imported visual fragments of advertisements and other mass media reproduction.

Lumumba is Dead (Adieu Amerique)

2. Lurie had returned to Europe in 1951 for the first time after his emigration to the States and stayed mostly in Paris but visited also Spain and Italy. For an excellent and comprehensive account of Lurie’s life and art, see John Wronoski, “Boris Lurie: A Life in the Camps”/Boris Lurie: Ein Leben Im Lager,” in KZ—Kampf—Kunst Boris Lurie: NO!Art, Cologne, NS-Dokumentationszentrum der Stadt Köln, exhibition catalog, 2014, text in German and English. New York, NO!art Publishing, 2014, 25-293. 3. A heated theoretical discussion about the status of realism versus abstraction was already well underway in France in communist and avant-garde circles in the 1920s and 30s and culminated in the Spring of 1936 in a debate organized in Paris by the Maison de la Culture. It became known as the “Querelle du realisme.” The proceedings were published at Aragon’s initiative and the event was followed by a gathering of painters and writers, organized by the Communist Party. For a critical introduction and documents of the proceedings, see Serge Fauchereau, ed., La Querelle du Réalisme, Paris, Éditions Cercle d’Art, 1987. In 1951, when Lurie was in Paris, the debate became very heated and public once more on the occasion of the Salon d’Automne, when two major proponents of Socialist Realism created a scandal and their works were removed, albeit later reinstalled, from the exhibition. One was Boris Taslitzky, himself a Buchenwald survivor; it is unlikely that Lurie was not aware of the debate. See Wronoski: “Boris Lurie: A Life in the Camps,” 118.


Boris Lurie’s Lumumba is Dead (Adieu Amérique), 1959-61 is a large mixed media work on canvas, composed with oil and a variety of collage materials, including newspaper clippings, text fragments, playing cards, photos, and sections of some of the group’s NO! posters. The work belongs to a series of works, all titled or subtitled “Adieu Amérique” that Lurie produced after a longer sojourn in France between 1954-55, his second return to Europe after the war.2 While in Paris, he was closely associated with a group of like-minded socialist and communist artists, including Louis Aragon, who, already before the war, was a key figure in the critical debate about the role of art as an agent of social transformation and in particular the status of realism in an art intended for all.3 Lurie returned to New York with the intention of packing up and moving permanently to Paris but ultimately that did not happen. However, the “Adieu Amérique” and the many “dieu” fragments of the farewell greetings within this composition point powerfully to his intention. Lumumba is Dead is organized around a prominent black swastika boldly painted with a few quick marks of the brush and placed in reverse within a circle shaped by a news clipping, “Adieu Amérique,” the photo of a man’s head, partially covered by the black mark of the Nazi symbol, partially by a thin layer of black brushwork. This central circle is framed by a rectangle, tinted red with a flurry of light brush marks and the photos of two pin-up girls placed like guardians to the left and right. Lurie then filled the entire composition with a jumble of small photos of pin-up girls, placed this way and that, in various sizes and alluring poses, and crowned his composition with a strip of five larger frontal photos of a buxom blonde, the row of images interrupted by a text fragment “WHY CUBA HATES US,” a clipped photo of a man, a ghost-like white figure on black ground (it looks like one of Lurie’s own earlier paintings of dismembered women) and another bright spot of color, a square of yellow and red, right above the head of a dog. There are text fragments throughout the composition, the most prominent “LUMUMBA” and “WHO” to the left, and “IS DEAD” to the right, as well as “Miss Sputnik,” and “Critical Tests with Make-Believe,” “Dieu” (“God” in French) inserted in many different places


throughout the composition, and less legibly since partially covered by paint and another female body, “ALL NECESSARY FOR…OF EVIL..TO WIN” right next to a minuscule African mask. Among the jumble of female bodies we discover also two bowls of strawberries, a nativity scene next to another small swastika, this one in its Nazi orientation, photos of lions and other animals, and more and more female bodies. The immediate reaction on being confronted with this work is shock, disbelief and confusion. Even in today’s media culture, the assault of semi-pornographic imagery surrounding representations of Fascist power is difficult to take. But these very images, the multitude of luscious bodies and poses serve a potent visual function: they lure the gaze, and by luring us into the composition, we realize that Lurie has superimposed the Fascist symbols on current U.S. politics. Patrice Lumumba was the first democratically elected prime minister of the independent Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly a Belgian colony. He was instrumental in the transformation of the Congo as a former colony into an independent republic. Shortly after Independence in 1960, there was an attempted coup, supported by the U.S. with subsequent lasting political turmoil that prompted Belgium, the former colonial power, to intervene. When Lumumba turned to the United States for help, he was refused; he then turned to the Soviet Union, which supported African independence and offered help—which in turn put Lumumba and the Democratic Republic of Congo into the midst of the Cold War. Lumumba was ultimately assassinated with further C.I.A. involvement on the 17th of January 1961.4 Although it could not be proven in 1961 that the C.I.A. was involved, the dynamics of power relations at this time certainly suggested it, particularly to a thinker critical of U.S. politics of domination. Equating U.S. involvement in the Congo with Nazi politics, Lurie forcefully condemns United States Imperialism. But this condemnation is just one of the many layers of meaning Lurie has fashioned in this work. The masses of pin-up girls point to another aspect of American culture: the repressed sexuality of the postwar culture that for many men found an outlet in pin-up photography. Lurie seized on the collage process with its torn surfaces as an ideal means to tear away the gloss and reveal the pure image America had fashioned for itself in the postwar period as fake; while linking at the same time pornography to power (imperialism, fascism), he decries the ultimate objectification of the female body capitalism (or consumer society) accomplishes. However, the most powerful and disturbing indictment of current American politics is revealed on a different layer and only upon closer reading of the pictorial fragments, and here, too, the references operate on two separate yet interconnected levels, the public and the personal: Lurie inserted a text fragment, partially obscured by the black paint, right in between the top quadrant of the large swastika and immediately below a small piece of paper with handwritten text: “Imperialismo Yanky.” But it is readable enough to make out that it refers to Adolf Eichmann, SS Lieutenant, and the main executioner of Hitler’s Final Solution, the mass murder of millions of European Jews in extermination camps and identifies the partially obscured photograph below as that of Eichmann. U.S. forces had arrested Eichmann in 1946 but he escaped prison and settled with his family under a different name in Argentina where he was captured by the Israeli secret service in May 1960. His public trial took place in Jerusalem to enormous international attention between April and December 1961. Eichmann was sentenced to death by hanging and the sentence was carried out on May 31, 1962. In many respects, the Eichmann trial was the most important of the trials against former Nazi officials. While the Nuremberg trials in 1945-6 of the upper echelon

4. For a summary of the complicated history of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Lumumba’s role and legacy, see the Wikipedia entry on Lumumba,; also the brief “Patrice Lumumba: the most important assassination of the 20th Century,” The Guardian, poverty-matters/2011/jan/17/patrice-lumumba-50thanniversary-assassination. For a detailed study of American involvement in the Congo and Lumumba’s assassination, see Madeleine G. Kalb, The Congo Cables. The Cold War in Africa—From Eisenhower to Kennedy, New York, Macmillan, 1982; and the more recent book, Ludo de Witte, The Assassination of Lumumba, London and New York, Verso, 2001.



of Nazi leadership in front of an international tribunal presented the first major reckoning with German war crimes, crimes against peace and crimes against humanity (these were the categories developed by the tribunal), the Eichmann trial took on special meaning since it was conducted by Jewish judges in Israel—only founded as a state three years earlier—and included the testimony of surviving victims of the Holocaust.5 For Lurie, who had lost most of the women in his family in the Rumbula massacre and as a survivor of Nazi concentration camps himself, the daily reporting on the trial must have meant deep emotional turmoil. Indeed, Lurie’s references to personal trauma can be found in two other collage insertions to the left and right in the composition. On the upper left we encounter a small newspaper clipping of a report entitled, “Auschwitz Survivor A Stranger on Visit to Polish Home Town” and on the right an “Invitation / Anniversary Commemoration of the Former Jews of Latvia,” and “Memorial Services for the departed souls of the Jews of Latvia will be held December 4, 1960,” as well as the prominent “December” in red letters (December 8, 1941 was one of the dates of the Rumbula massacre.) Lurie thus leads us back from the execution of current imperialistic political power to Nazism and from there specifically to Latvia and his hometown, Riga, and thus his very own personal trauma. Formally, as with all collages, the fragmented surface of Lumumba is Dead (Adieu Amérique) highlights the destruction of a cohesive image and draws attention to the impossibility (and undesirability) of regaining a form of visual representation that served to cement a dominant view and with that, official power. But arguably, collage works are made more real even in their fragmented state through the insertions of actual fragments of reality that bear witness to a historical moment. Therefore, while Lurie weaves a complex web of the evils of power (indeed, even includes a text fragment with the capitalized words “NECESSARY…OF EVIL” in the lower right), he simultaneously undermines the execution of power by visually destroying its transmission, much as he undermines the power of the large swastika by painting it in reverse (and thus evoking the swastika’s original meaning before it became a symbol of Nazism, as in Zoroastrian religion where it stood for the revolving sun, infinity and continuing creation).6

5. For the original reporting, see Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: The Banality of Evil, with an introduction by Amos Elon, New York, Penguin Classics, 2006, originally publ. in 1963 (excerpts first published in The New Yorker). For a recent critical consideration, see Deborah E. Lipstadt, The Eichmann Trial, New York, Schocken, 2011. 6. For a detailed history of the swastika, see https:// 7. Jacques de la Villeglé stated: “The gestural savagery of a multitude is individualized to become the most remarkable manifestation of ‘art made by all and not by one’ of this period” as quoted in Thomas Crow, The Rise of the Sixties, New York, Harry N. Abrams, 1996, p. 55.


Superficially, Lurie’s work recalls the works of the French Décollage artists of the same time, as for Jacques de la Villeglé’s Boulevard St Martin, 1959. Their works consist of lacerated posters ripped from walls, their torn surfaces revealing layers upon layers of fragments of previous posters; their multi-layered disintegration produced remarkably abstract designs evocative of the modern city and an art produced not by an individual artist but by all.7 Yet, Lurie proceeds in a diametrically opposite way and with another aim: his scavenged material— the myriad photos of pin-up girls and pornographic imagery—does not reveal hidden histories but rather is piled from the ground up to fill all the interstices of the composition. On the one hand, they humanize, while simultaneously dehumanizing, the dominant power relations in capitalist societies (as sex workers, they represent in Marxian economics an example of the most exploited form of labor), on the other, they point to a psychological impulse within Lurie himself. The incessant piling up of these images, not just in this work but in many of his others as well, in a sort of endless repetition may also manifest a psychological barrier to accessing the origin of one’s trauma, in Lurie’s case, the murders at Rumbula. The art historian Hal Foster characterized repetition in Warhol’s Car Disaster series as serving as a protective shield:


The real cannot be represented; it can only be repeated, indeed it must be repeated….to screen the real understood as traumatic. But this very need also points to the real, and it is at this point that the real ruptures the screen of repetition. It is a rupture not in the world but in the subject; it is a rupture between perception and consciousness of a subject touched by an image.8 Lurie’s additive method allowed him to work on different projects simultaneously, keep an image in flux and return to it when wanting to make further changes. Liberty or Lice, 1959-60, a painting with collage, overlapped with his work on Adieu Amérique. Lumumba is Dead (Adieu Amérique) shows how the Lumumba work may indeed have helped him to achieve a psychological breakthrough and break the screen built from the multitude of pin-up girls and actually name his trauma. This work, executed with bold marks of the brush, some collage elements, and large handwriting done with the brush, frames the most important dates in his life: to the upper left, “Dec 8” (1941, the second date of the Rumbula massacre and the date of his personal losses, his beloved) carved out in large capital letters with black paint from a beige ground and on the lower right in large white letters framed by an orange-red ground, “April 18,” the date of his liberation from the Buchenwald/Magdeburg-Polte camp by U.S. troops in 1945. Most of the center of the painting is filled with bold brushstrokes in white, tinted with red, some expressive broad black marks, a red Star of David on yellow ground and scattered throughout some images of women but none of the ever-present alluring pin-ups we find in so many other works of the period. In the upper right, Lurie affixed a photo of the Riga Ghetto, and right next to it an evocation of a world gone by with the reproduction of a Gauguin still life of flowers and fruit set in a lush and colorful bourgeois interior. Most of the upper left is taken up with the name of his sister, Jeanne, murdered at Rumbula.9 While Lurie spells out his sister’s name, he inserted a photo of a beautiful, elegant woman in the very center of the composition, in the midst of the white and red marks, a woman who may stand for both his mother, Shaina, and Ljuba, much like the faded pictures of other women visible here and there, evoke the unspeakable massacre on that December day. There are also images of high-heeled shoes placed throughout the composition, with their dual resonance of elegance and sexual fetish, and the words “LIBERTY or LICE” twice, on the right side in yellow, on the left, without the “Lice” and spelled in reverse (possibly an oil transfer print) in black. But significantly, and indicating that Lurie was indeed able to break through the protective screen and see himself in relation to the unfathomable trauma of his life, he included a small photo of himself, not as a young man in Riga or at liberation, but one showing himself as a mature man. However, placed as it is horizontally within the composition and surrounded by a prominent black bar as if in a coffin he links himself to the dead and framed his own portrait by the Hebrew letters spelling “Madua” (“why?”).10 “Liberty,” in bright yellow suggests life; “lice” refers to the dire conditions in the camps; “Liberty” in black and in reverse intones death. For him, choosing life, so Lurie implies, will always mean being close to death since the memories of the trauma he experienced will forever be present and remain defining. Significantly, in a letter to himself (part of his posthumously published memoir) Lurie refers to his painting: That painting, I dare say, opened you and your art into conscious understanding of self, while also inaugurating an art form of full and reckless and conscious sincerity and openness, but arrived at via unconscious exercising, gesturing, of instantaneous projections of the mind immediately fixed on canvas; and this was art, not Dada or anti-art.11

Liberty or Lice

8. Hal Foster, “Death in America,” October, 75 (Winter 1996), 37-60. 9. In his memoir, Lurie on a visit to Riga, experiences the beloved city as a place of lack that has lost all its former vivacious beauty. Contemplating a photo of Jeanna, he remembers her as the most vibrant and beautiful girl in Riga. “My sister Jeanna isn’t there anymore, not even her memory. It was she who gave Riga that sensuous feeling....No, Jeanna, I did not even feel you there at Rumbula. The place is too dreary for you. You must have flown away to a friendlier clime.” Lurie in. Boris Lurie in Riga. A Memoir, New York, NO!art Publishing, 2019, 94. Published posthumously. 10. The letter is transcribed in Wronoski, 148. I am indebted to Wronoski’s excellent study for information and insights but regret that I could not engage it in greater detail; it only became available to me in the very last stages of writing with an extremely tight production/ exhibition schedule. My own interpretation of this work largely coincides with Wronoski’s; however, he seems to have overlooked the self-portrait inserted into the composition. 11. As cited by Wronoski, 148-9.



The photograph of the Riga Ghetto which Lurie inserted into Liberty or Lice, is the punctum in this painting, the term Roland Barthes used in his study of photography, Camera Lucida, to describe that aspect of a photograph that we ultimately cannot grasp because it is too personally touching and wounding and escapes our capacity to grasp it through rational analysis. The punctum is, as Freud said about dreams that cannot be unraveled through interpretation, “the dream’s navel, the spot where it reaches down into the unknown.”12

Flatcar Assemblage, 1945, by Adolf Hitler

Railroad Collage (Railroad To America)

12. See Judith F. Rodenbeck, “Car Crash, 1960,” in Lisa Saltzman and Eric Rosenberg, eds, Trauma and Visuality in Modernity, Lebanon, NH, Dartmouth College Press, 2006, 114. In discussing Jim Dine’s happening, Rodenbeck also criticizes Foster’s analysis of Warhol’s Disasters as “slip[ing] from the register of the traumatic to that of the tragic.” 13. Flatcar Assemblage. 1945 by Adolf Hitler, c. 1962, offset lithograph. 14. Simon Taylor, “Die NO!art-Bewegung in New York,” in NO!art, Neue Gesellschaft für bildende Kunst, Berlin, 1995, exhibition catalog, 14 (translation by the author). 15. Railroad Collage (Railroad to America), c. 1963, collage on canvas. In some publications the title of this work is simply referred to as Railroad.


If the punctum in Liberty or Lice was the small photo of the Riga Ghetto, the punctum becomes the entire image in Lurie’s Flatcar Assemblage, 1945, by Adolf Hitler, 1961.13 Here, Lurie uses one of the photographs taken at the liberation of the Buchenwald camp documenting the cleanup operations. It shows a flatcar piled high with the emaciated bodies of victims of the Nazi terror like so much debris. Lurie titled it, and used the image otherwise unaltered, Flatcar Assemblage, 1945, by Adolf Hitler. This work “seems to suggest that if Hitler had been able to realize his dream of becoming an artist, the ‘Final Solution’ could perhaps have been avoided.”14 That reading evades the complexities of Lurie’s deliberations about Nazi mass murder and our postwar reception of history. On the one hand, the terse title reveals a deeply despairing comment on Nazi mass annihilation, filtered ironically through the language of contemporary art and Duchamp’s Ready-mades, on the other, on the space and possibilities in capitalist society for critical reflection. The Bourke-White photos, and the photos taken by Lee Miller, and others in the American press corps of the liberation of Buchenwald were published in Time, Life and Vogue magazines, as well as numerous newspapers all over America in the spring and summer of 1945 but disappeared mostly from view after that. They were often published next to the usual advertisements of consumer goods. The horrendous pile of corpses of Hitler’s extermination policies, Lurie implies, has become not much else as other objects in modern consumer society. In a later, deeply shocking reprise of the image, Lurie confronted the viewer even more directly: By superimposing the photo of the luscious derrière of a stripper who teasingly is pulling down her panties over the mass of corpses, and calling his collage Railroad Collage (Railroad to America),15 Lurie emphasizes more directly still the commodification of even the most unspeakable of human deeds through indifferent mass media reproduction—but at the same time also comments on his own route from Buchenwald to the United States and his struggle to forge a viable opposition to the leveling effects of consumer society. The stripper, as the other countless photos of the many pin-up girls in his work, plays a double role. As a sex worker, she embodies capitalist exploitation and with that stands in for U.S. consumer society and its objectification of the human body. But of course she also has the task of drawing the viewer’s gaze desiring into this picture of unspeakable horror, forcing us to see from what we would rather advert our eyes. In many respects, this work in its utter reduction is closest to Pop Art’s use of mass media imagery except that Lurie purposefully transgresses the aesthetic taboos still at work in early 1960s culture even after the Holocaust, after Hiroshima. That this work has lost nothing of its shock effect only shows how much the same aesthetic taboos are operational still today and above all how much we continue to avoid critical engagement with the most horrifying historical deeds. During the late 40s and beyond, Lurie created numerous drawings and other works that he called his “private works,” not intended for exhibition. They depict mostly scenes from the camps, slave laborers, men returning from work to the camp, guard posts, barbed wired fences, but also groups of women, often in three, as if to conjure the presence of the beloved and lost women in his life. We see how Lurie approaches the traumatic experiences, turning and tossing them in his mind,


trying to sound out the depth of his trauma, even depicting an extermination gas oven with two elongated, emaciated camp inmates standing guard to the left and right. Highly unusual in his work and in the history of sculpture in general is a slightly later relief sculpture. It shows a head from above, bedded on Masonite painted red and surrounded by an oozing mass of glue. Lurie fashioned the head from clay and gave it a high glaze that captures the light and visually almost dissolves the surface when looked at. Squashed Head, 1955,16 harks back to early twentiethcentury experimentation in sculpture when artists like Rodin, Medaro Rosso and also Brancusi, the latter with different means, tried to infuse sculpture with movement and did so by modeling the surfaces in a tactile manner as if modeled in soft wax so that light would give the inert object a sense of movement and life. Particularly famous is Medaro Rosso’s Ecce Puer, 1906-7, the head of a young boy glimpsed in a fleeting moment through an open curtain. In Rosso’s sculpture, “matter and form draw attention to dematerialization and loss of form. The figure is disappearing, and what remains is the memory of gravity. It is the first sculpture… that attempts through its full presence, to speak about emptiness and absence.”17 Lurie’s relief sculpture, however, has nothing of the soft tones of Rosso’s portrait of the young boy. The light dissolves form but by doing so accentuates the ghastly absence of color in the face. Lurie’s Squashed Head is a Brancusi Muse or the Rosso boy brutally squashed flat with all appearance of life pressed out of its form. The light in Lurie’s work only reveals death and the death is the imagined deaths of the countless dead of Rumbula, squashed by the weight of the other victims above them. It is a deeply disturbing work and gives us a hint why Lurie would fill all the interstices in his compositions with the images of pin-up girls, of women brimming with life.18

Squashed Head

Lurie was able to resolve the problem of the unimaginable, the representation of a body in a mass grave, only much later in a series of boxes on which he worked in the late 1960s and early 70s. These are shallow corrugated cardboard boxes, all untitled, the kind one picks up at the market to carry home vegetables. He filled them with a base layer of dirt, some containing pebbles and other debris, natural fibers and other organic matter, the dirt typically painted a dirty grey-brown or beige. In some boxes we look into sand that has been tinted red next to slightly shiny material, in others, we find touches of dirty pale blue or green. Folded and crushed material fills the rest of the open box. But all of them contain pin-up girls. These are harsh works; they look as if Lurie scattered a thin layer of dirt or ashes over the material, but they are also intimate and tender in the way the photos are embedded in the material as if to honor the individual, removing her from the mass grave and honoring her with a private funeral. Lurie’s boxes invite a comparison with Lucas Samaras who produced about 135 small boxes during the 1960s while living in New York and adorned them with unexpected materials, inside or out, some bearing the traces of violence like glass shards or pins. The critic Donald Kuspit referred to these boxes as “wombs” and wrote that he “mythologized his traumatic experience” and “created a small inner space, womblike and reclusive, where he could hold out against the world; a space not unlike the cave in which he hid from the Germans with his mother and aunt.”19 Like Lurie, Samaras experienced Nazi persecution when he and his mother were hiding in caves in Greece during the war. Samaras’ colorful boxes have found ready entry into the annals of the history of art; they fit effortlessly into the aesthetics of Surrealism and were thus easily assimilated into a critical context. Luries’ works, in contrast, transgress established boundaries of representation. In that, they bring to mind Josef Beuys’ unusual forms, rejection of color, and wrapping of objects in felt.

16. Boris Lurie, Squashed Head, 1955, clay mounted on Masonite. 17. Sharon Hecker, A Moment’s Monument: Medaro Rosso and the International Origins of Modern Sculpture. Berkeley, University of California Press, 2017, 213. 18. Lurie wrote a long passage on the pin-up girls in his work and stated that their life-filled bodies stood in for the many lives lost at Rumbula. Boris Lurie, Introduction to Selected Pin-ups: 1947-1973, as cited by John WronIoski, “Boris Lurie: A Life in the Camps,” in KZ–Kampf–Kunst Boris Lurie: NO!Art, exhibition catalog, City of Cologne, NS-Documentation Center. New York, NO!art Publishing, 2014, p. 217. 19. Donald Kuspit, in Marla Prather, Unexpected Ego: The Self Portraits of Lucas Samaras, exhibition catalogue, Whitney Museum of Art, New York, 2003, 46-7.



Reflecting on his visit to Riga in 1976 and the psychological abyss of his encounter with the site of the Rumbula massacre, Lurie wrote: “Life’s central experience is like a gift, tied up and neatly packaged ready for shipment. A label lists the contents like a postal declaration. Such a small package, it takes up very little space. After you have mailed it, what is left? Labeled in Soviet style: Country: USSR Town: Riga Street: Ludzas To: Dead and the Future Dead. The package goes through mail handlers….it is opened…They find nothing— emptiness….Deposited at sign: ‘To the Victims of Fascism’….The package remains next to a few wilting flower bouquets, which will disappear when the last Jew disappears from Riga.”20

Immigrant’s NO Suitcase (Anti-Pop)

Immigrant’s NO Suitcase (Anti-Pop)

20. Boris Lurie, In Riga. A Memoir, New York, NO!art Publishing, 2019, 85-6.


Between 1935-1940, ahead of his move to New York, Marcel Duchamp fabricated his Boîte-en-valise, a portable box in a leather suitcase containing sixty-nine reproductions in miniature of his own work. The box could be opened in various steps and allow the artist to pull out the replicas and display his work like a traveling salesman his wares, further blurring the boundary between original and copy and characterizing the making of art as a commercial enterprise. The Boîteen-valise is a witty summary of the status of the work of art and raises, as all of his work, questions about the difference between an original and a copy (indeed, he made sixty-seven copies of the Boîte and during the 1950s and 1960s, made a second edition of the Boîte-en-valise, without the suitcase but each containing the identical reproductions but in the deluxe format also an original print). Not only had art become a multiple, but has also become utterly portable, thus functioning and commenting even more effectively on its status as consumer good. In the early to mid-1906s, Lurie also produced a series of suitcases but his are the exact opposite. Where Duchamp stored his box of replicas (and one original) elegantly into a neat suitcase, with the sample art inside, Lurie carried the art—and his trauma—for all to see. Much like Duchamp, Lurie’s suitcases, too, advertised his art and left little doubt about the owner’s identity. The suitcases are covered with large collage pieces and are roughly painted, bulky and sturdy, some emblazoned with one or more swastikas, collaged or painted on, or both, a large yellow Star of David, bold patches of black and red paint, and invariably one of the Buchenwald camp photos enlarged to fill almost half of one side of the suitcase. Lurie has traveled a long way from inserting the Buchenwald photos barely discernable in his large collaged works to now being able to make the horror visible to all, with the word NO painted across it in large letters. The raw but also colorful externalization of internalized trauma stands now side-by-side with a prominent stenciled “ANTI-POP” message and on one of the suitcases, a photo of the pin-up girl he had used already on Railroad Collage (Railroad to America) is crowned by a large “I LOVE YOU” spanning the entire side of one of the suitcases. There is a photo of Lurie dressed like a worker, deeply bent under a heavy burlap sack emblazoned with a yellow Star of David. The photograph is taken in Lurie’s studio where we see all the messy makings of his art. It stands as a summary of his work and of NO!art: to acknowledge the burden of life as shaped by external forces and explore its meaning through the making of art free of the restrictions imposed by government and social institutions. Where Duchamp neatly enclosed the carefully and precisely fabricated miniature replicas of his work in a box and further protected the box in a plain sturdy suitcase, Lurie, in his suitcases, exposes his life, his art, but above all his trauma, for all to see. And it is here, in this externalization of trauma, where Lurie locates the space for freedom to critique, and a possible embrace of life.


Dorothea Dietrich, PhD, a professor and curator of modern and contemporary art, has taught at Princeton University and held visiting appointments at Yale, MIT, Duke and Boston Universities, among others. Her work has been supported by grants from the American Council for Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. She was Senior Research Fellow at the Henry Moore Institute in England and most recently, served as Chair and Professor of the History of Art and Design at Pratt Institute. Dr. Dietrich is the author of The Collages of Kurt Schwitters: Tradition and Innovation, and German Drawings of the 60s, as well as many articles and catalog essays.





Lumumba is Dead (Adieu Amerique)



The indelible images with which each Holocaust survivor is plagued never leaves that person. The same can be said of sounds and smells that continue to plague survivors in their daily lives or sporadically. Such haunting intrusions become most prevalent when current events trigger reminiscences of past experiences. In order, therefore, to appreciate, to understand, and not to pigeonhole Boris Lurie’s art work, his life under the German occupation of Latvia during World War II needs to be considered a prefiguring of his creations. Boris Lurie, the youngest of three children, was born in 1924 into a wealthy socialist Zionist family in Leningrad. At that time, Stalin’s rise to power endangered Jews, and Lurie’s father moved to Riga, Latvia, and a year later the rest of the family joined him. Lurie’s idyllic life ended when the German army marched into Riga on July 1, 1941 and took control of Latvia as part of the Reich Commissariat ‘East.’ Immediately, laws were promulgated to restrict the lives of Jews: food ration cards were limited, a Star of David on the front and back was mandated, walking on the pavement or going to public places was prohibited, and soon after, a ghetto for the 30,000 Jewish inhabitants was created. The ghetto was then separated into a smaller labor camp for 4,000 men. The worst day in Lurie’s life, December 8, 1941, was when his mother, grandmother, sister, and his first love were killed along with approximately 25,000 people in Rumbula, ten kilometers from Riga, most of whom were women, children, the elderly, and a thousand German Jews who had been deported from Berlin. The German Einsatzgruppe A, along with Latvian collaborators, completed the operation in two days. The graphic details of this massacre are important because they became etched in Lurie’s mind and are depicted in his art. In the freezing weather of Rumbula each had to strip, and leave behind their clothes and luggage. Groups of fifty were led into an open mass grave and ordered to lie face down. They were then shot in the back of the head. The next pile of fifty had to lie on the dead before them. Over the next four years, Boris, along with his father, was transferred to several camps -- Riga-Lenta, thence Salapils, Stutthof, Magdeburg-Polte, a satellite of Buchewald. Ten days before liberation, Lurie was in the latrine when he heard an inmate say that the Germans had left the camp. Along with a friend, he decided to escape. The following day the SS returned and sent the inmates on a death march that most did not survive. Lurie often claims that it was feces that saved his life. After liberation Lurie returned to the camp, hoping to reunite with his father, but he was very ill and slept for a few days. When he woke up his father was standing beside him. Boris’s surviving sister found him and his father and helped them get a job with the Counter Intelligence Corps, and then employment to help war prisoners. They boarded a boat to the United States and arrived in 1946. This was a time in America when the Jewish community avoided engaging with Holocaust survivors about their persecution. Survivors were shunned and treated like pariahs. Lurie’s art reflects that rejection by labelling his artwork of the 1940s as private paintings, never to be shown in public. What should have been a communal mourning became clandestine. When Lurie began to exhibit his work, it became clear that the idea of “memory” needed to be channeled not only in terms of creativity but in terms of the meaning and context of the work. In viewing Lurie’s work, it is not sufficient to understand the motifs of railway tracks, barracks, barbed wire, loss of three generations of women in his family, Nazi guards in the camps—all are familiar depictions of

1. Boris Lurie, Involvement show statement (1961), in Boris Lurie and Seymour Krim, No!art. Pin-ups, Excrement, Protest, Jew-Art, Berlin/Cologne, Edition Hundertmark, 1988, 39.



persecution. Mourning the loss of a mother, sister, grandmother, and yes, a first love, is debilitating, but it can also be energizing in a search for meaning and in a desire to make a difference in the world. The context of Boris Lurie’s work needs to include the setting of his activity, America of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Lurie was living as an artist in New York’s East Village, well aware of commercialization and sanitization of the art world. For Lurie, his art was not about selling works, nor was it about making money. He wanted those who viewed his art to be aware of the genocide of the Jews, and particularly of the dehumanization of women before they were murdered, and about the aftermath of such massive trauma. Of the painting that has become the most familiar of Lurie’s works of this period, the Railroad Collage (Railroad to America), 1963, much as been written. The juxtaposition of dead bodies lying one on top of another and a voluptuous pin-up girl is jarring to most viewers. This collage is a screen for the murder of his mother, sister, grandmother and first love, all of whom were ordered to strip, lie down in a pit with their face down, fifty at a time, and then shot in the head. The next fifty were piled on top of them, until the pit was filled up with dead bodies and then burned. It is too heart wrenching to contemplate the real image of the barbaric method used to kill the Jews, hence the static image of the familiar skeletons.

Railroad Collage (Railroad to America)

When third generation Holocaust survivors view this collage with the knowledge that the artist himself was a Holocaust survivor whose mother, sister, grandmother, and first love were killed in the mass execution of women, children and elderly in Rumbula, they do not judge this work of art by the standard ethical moral criteria of dehumanization of women. I interviewed a few second and third generation of Holocaust survivors to understand what Lurie’s art work suggests to those in their twenties, thirties and forties. Cayle White, a New York performing artist and expert in special education needs, asked, “Is Lurie trying to symbolize that America is a giant whore?” This collage, of course, was done in the early 1960s, when pop art and the commercialization of art was beginning to gain prominence in the United States, and the works of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein were beginning to flood the art market. White goes on to say, “While most artists were selling out to the critics, Lurie put something emotionally raw into a sanitized art scene.” White empathizes with Lurie’s tormented soul, while simultaneously she recognizes his fighting spirit. He is not just a naysayer; he is driven to make positive changes in society. Another grandchild of a Hungarian Jewish survivor of Auschwitz, Emma Cantor, an artist and production designer, said that this collage does not offend her because it was constructed by a Holocaust survivor. Says Cantor, “After all, Lurie was a witness to the horrific dehumanization of women.” Cantor continues, “Because Lurie is a Holocaust survivor, the ethical and moral sensibilities of art do not trivialize the Holocaust even if it degrades women.” Cantor understands that “art, for Lurie, is a means of self-expression, and a healing of some kind. Therefore, I can be more forgiving.” Emma Cantor’s observations attest to the notion that Lurie’s traumatic lifeexperiences of persecution, loss, near-death life, homelessness, rootlessness cried out for expression. Even though he is a male artist portraying women’s bodies, such works, Cantor reasons “Cannot be judged with the same moral compass as a man who was not a survivor of genocide.”



A rabbinical student, Emmanuel Cantor, has spent many hours communicating with his grandfather, a man who witnessed violence in Auschwitz but escaped death. Seeing Lurie’s art, Cantor reflects, “As a third generation of Holocaust survivors, I often think about my grandfather’s survival.” Lurie reminds Cantor that he does not think about the experience of what it was like to be killed. What is also illuminating for Cantor is that “young people usually see harrowing images on Google which they immediately click off, or in a book and turn the page and not linger.” In contrast, Cantor notes, “When an artwork is in front of you look at it no matter what your proclivity.” When Lurie produced Railroad to America in 1963, sexual violence towards women was a taboo subject even among Holocaust historians.1 For a third generation like Emmanuel Cantor, “I am becoming increasingly aware how much sexual violence was a part of the Holocaust and its aftermath.” Of course, Cantor is aware that this subject was not discussed with him when it was not age appropriate, but he says, “There are power dynamics at play that encouraged silence in society.” In Railroad to America, the contrast between the voluptuous woman with most of her buttocks exposed and the dead, emaciated, nude bodies piled one on top of the other, forced Cantor to focus on the sexual violation against female victims in the Holocaust. Not having any female survivors in his family the subject did not come up and, of course, Cantor recognizes that it may have been difficult to ask in the first place. If Lurie would have portrayed only dead bodies of women piled one on top of the other, the strong message of sexual violation of women would not have been possible. Such a collage would have been typical of the newsreels that were shown in movie houses after World War II, including the pin-up girl in the collage that lends itself to a discussion about how different societies denigrate women. As Mahli Lieblich, a daughter of Holocaust survivors from Poland whose parents survived ghettos and concentration camps, remarked about the Cattle Car to America, “One repulsive pornographic image is replaced by another.” Each artistic image stimulates a different discussion and varies with each onlooker. For Jews viewing the Immigrant’s NO Suitcase, Cantor suggests, “a new conversation about old dynamics of Jewish migration. Jews today who have experienced refugee status many times throughout history need to consider how to confront the contemporary refugee issues.” The suitcase with a Jewish star symbolizes for Cantor and others I interviewed the Wandering Jew and musings about (suggests Cantor), “Jewish homeland, Zionism, nationalism and the violence of the twentieth century that spread Jews all over the globe.” For some grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, the current refugee problem on the southern American border is not just about a conversation, it is about action. Joel Tauber, himself an artist and filmmaker focused on ethics and the environment, had a grandfather who saved lives in the Budapest ghetto as a doctor and a grandmother, Lilly Manovill, who worked along her husband to rescue many Jews, providing medical attention and forged identification papers. Joel Tauber walked seven miles every day for 40 days, along the U.S.-Mexico border from the Otay Mesa Port of Entry to a nearby detention facility, and back playing catch with anyone who wanted to play. He uses the sport as a metaphor for all things good between cultures and how sport can bring people from different backgrounds together. Tauber explained, “Whatever boundaries there are, whatever borders there are, we’re all in this together. We’re all on the same team.”2

Immigrant’s NO Suitcase (Anti-Pop)

1. There are exceptions. The Israeli novelist Ka’Tsetnik (Yehiel De’Nur) novel House of Dolls luridly portrays Jewish sex-slaves in Auschwitz. And Gisella Perl’s memoir I Was a Doctor in Auschwitz, are examples.



Tauber stands on the sidewalk and bears witness to three layers of barbed wire and electric fencing that separate him from the people locked inside. He reports, “I cannot see them. I cannot talk with them or play catch with them. I cannot offer food or other forms of direct aid. I try to imagine what it must be like for the detainees—especially those who are forced to remain in the Detention Center for years on end. Refugees. Dreamers. Most have no criminal records whatsoever. Treated like prisoners. In jumpsuits. Living in concrete cages. Breathing in terrible air from the power plant across the street. Suffering, according to multiple reports, from physical and sexual abuse. Medical neglect. Contaminated and insufficient food. Forced labor.”3 When Tauber tosses the ball he says, “I think about how my paternal grandparents survived the Holocaust. How my grandfather’s brother died in a labor camp. How I am a descendant of immigrants who came to this country because they believed, like I do, that it is a welcoming place that values people from all ethnic backgrounds and religious beliefs. A compassionate country that finds homes for refugees, that cares for those that need help.” Tauber continues, “I’m still shocked by the march in Charlottesville, so close to where I live with my wife and two young boys. Klansmen without hoods, shouting openly about killing Jews and African Americans. I’m frightened by the rise of racist rhetoric and the rise of hate crimes. And I’m terrified by white nationalism.” But, Tauber continues, “I have hope nonetheless. I continue to believe in our country. I’m confident that we will rediscover our values.” The conversations will continue with the showings of Border-Ball, a documentary and art installation Tauber is making. The symbol of the suitcase makes Cayle White feel the emptiness that it represents, she asks, “Is that all that is left?” For Lieblich, the suitcase takes on a different meaning. “Yes,” she says, “There is displacement of the human being, displacement of order and the signaling out of the Jew. The yellow star pops out as an everlasting symbol fixed to the suitcase.” The women represented above the NO were helpless and lost the ability to make a difference or have a voice. The transience of a suitcase and its emptiness prompts Lieblich to think that “there is no collective consciousness that passes from one generation to another. Each generation has to pass through the same set of emotions that the previous generation experienced and the human condition repeats itself over and over.” Lieblich concludes that only when individuals will rise above spiritually the cycle of hate, contempt, and jealously, will man overcome the repetition of dehumanization and violence. The shit sculptures have a very personal meaning for Lurie that cannot be diminished. Some viewers report nausea, others are grossed out and do not think of the symbolic meaning of the sculpture. Lieblich is able to go beyond the grotesqueness and interpret shit as a necessary ingredient for life. She says, “When you shit it becomes a fertilizer and creates new life. It is the cycle of life.” NO Sculpture (Shit Sculpture)

2. Little, Joe, “‘We’re All in This Together: Playing a Game of Catch Along U.S. – Mexico Border,” NBC 7 San Diego, November 7, 2019. 3. Joel Tauber, quotes from his writings in his website: 4. Adieu, “goodbye” in French, derives from Dieudieu, “God.”


Lurie’s raw emotions are also accompanied with an intellectual depth that a spectator needs in viewing a work such as Lumumba is Dead (Adieu Amérique).4 One of the first questions many ask after the Holocaust is, “where was God?” How do Jews reconcile being God’s chosen people with their destiny to be annihilated by the Germans? White asks, “How do people in America believe in God knowing what happened in the Holocaust?” Perhaps Lurie’s NO!art movement is a fight against the new Gods created in America that worship commercialism, sexual violation of women and sanitization of the past. Adieu Amérique is also reminding the world that the Jews were betrayed by the world the same way that Lumumba was betrayed by Belgium. After the Belgians granted Congo independence in 1960, Belgian King Baudouin claimed to want to


help in this transition to statehood. Patrice Lumumba, the newly elected prime minister, was soon jailed for inciting pro-independence disturbances because Belgium did not want to lose control of the land. Six months later, Lumumba was assassinated; Congo could then continue to be led by the rich and white overlords. The comparison of post-colonization to the Nazi Holocaust was the zeitgeist in which memories of the Holocaust and post-colonial history were being reconstructed, interconnected and the influences of one another were being discussed. On a more personal level Lurie felt betrayed by the world, as did the Jews living in German occupied countries during World War II. Survivors of trauma could become debilitated or they could experience traumatic growth. Art can be a medium that provides release from trauma because of its therapeutic value for the witness of death, loss, and lust. Some interpret art as a form of sublimation of the trauma. Lurie lived the tension between traumatic growth and debilitation. He was a teenager when he lost the women in his life and simultaneously was exposed to sexuality of women in the concentration camps. These competing images of women continue to haunt him. While his unrestrained visual expression may at time be jarring it was cathartic for him, hence, healing. For Lurie, traumatic growth was also enhanced by several factors. One, being a part of the NO!Art Movement. The opportunity to be able to express his opposition to pop-art and abstract expressionism, to fight against indifference to social and political issues as part of a group was therapeutic. Two, the supportive role that Gertrude Stein played in his life was very significant. Three, that he had an occupation, his art, that enriched his life, and gave him an outlet for his emotions.

Lumumba is Dead (Adieu Amerique)

Without the Holocaust survivors bearing witness, whether by giving testimony, or by writing, producing films, plays, dance performances, or making art, their descendants would not be involved continuing not only the mourning of those family members they did not know, but in engendering meaning or through creative endeavors or political, social and educational action. The descendants of the survivors have not lost all hope in humanity and are channeling their mourning into meaningful, life-affirming, action. Maia Ipp, a grandchild of Polish Jewish survivors who were rescued by Christians, writes in Jewish Currents, a journal she co-edits, “An attachment to suffering as a primary way of honoring this legacy seems dangerous – where does it lead us, internally and externally, individually and collectively?” For Ipp, who does not define her legacy through the pain, it has led her to bring back the Jewish culture that was destroyed in Poland by founding a festival of avant-garde Jewish art and ideas in Krakow, dialoguing with descendants of perpetrators in Germany and Poland, and bringing together Jewish and non-Jewish artists to work on Holocaust related projects from the U.S., Poland and Lithuania. Ipp and others like her in the third generation of Holocaust survivors owe gratitude to Boris Lurie’s art. Lurie has challenged us with images that have an impact on young people, not only in beginning the conversation but also asking, “What am I doing to make a difference?”

Eva Fogelman, PhD, a social psychologist, author and filmmaker, she is Co-director, Child Development Research (includes International Study of Organized Persecution of Children, Co-founder of Psychotherapy with Generations of the Holocaust and Related Traumas at Training Institute for Mental Health), and founding Director of Jewish Foundation for Christian Rescuers (the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous. Dr. Fogelman is author of the Pulitzer Prize nominee Conscience and Courage: Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust and co-editor of Children During the Nazi Reign: Psychological Perspective on the Interview Process. She is the writer and co-producer of the award winning documentary Breaking the Silence: The Generation After the Holocaust (PBS).






Big NO Painting, 1963 Paper collage and paint on canvas 66 x 84 in.



NO Poster, 1963 Offset print on wastepaper 29 x 22 in.



NO Poster, 1963 Offset print on wastepaper 28 x 22 in.



NO with Pinup and Flowers, 1963 Paint and paper collage mounted on Masonite 35 x 35 in.

NO Record, 1962 Acrylic paint on vinyl record mounted on board 14 x 14 in.

NO with Linoleum, 1962 Oil paint and linoleum on board 25 x 19 in.



NO (Baby Lotion), 1963 Spray paint and medium transfer over offset printing on wastepaper mounted on canvas 30 x 68 in.



Loins of Pork, 1959-1962 Paper collage on paper mounted on canvas 77 x 110 in.



Torn Pinups, 1962-1963 Paper collage on canvas 65 x 42.5 in.



Quench Your Thirst, 1962 Acrylic paint and transfer on canvas 68.5 x 42 in.



Torn Pinups: Cross, 1963 Paint and paper collage on canvas 62 x 50 in.



Untitled (Torn Pinups), 1963 Acrylic paint and paper collage on window screen 35.5 x 25.5 in.



Green Eyes, 1962 Acrylic paint and medium transfer on canvas 72.5 x 46 in.



Water Nymph, 1962 Paint and transfers on canvas 24 x 18.75 in.



Torn Pinups, 1962-1963 Paper collage, acrylic paint, and glue/wax on fabric 47 x 46.5 in.



Feathers, 1962 Paint and transfer on canvas 72.5 x 46 in.



Torn Pinups, 1962-1963 Photo collage on nylon fabric 49 x 41 in.



Altered Man (Cabot Lodge), 1963 Paint and paper collage on paper mounted on canvas 29.5 x 23 in.

Altered Man (Cabot Lodge), 1963 Paint on paper mounted on canvas 46 x 31.5 in.



Altered Man (Cabot Lodge), 1963 Paint on paper mounted on canvas 29 x 24 in.

Altered Man (Cabot Lodge) NO Poster, 1963 Offset print on wastepaper 28.5 x 22 in



Altered Photos: Pinup (Dismembered Figure), 1963 Photo emulsion and acrylic paint on canvas 46 x 56 in.

Altered Photos: Pinup (Body), 1963 Photo emulsion and acrylic paint on canvas 46 x 50 in.



After Father’s Death (My Father in his Coffin with Star of David), 1964 Oil paint on canvas 71 x 44 in.



A Jew is Dead, 1964 Paint and paper collage on canvas 116 x 67 in.



Lumumba is Dead (Adieu Amerique), 1959-1961 Oil paint, paper collage, playing cards, photos and wastepaper on canvas 71.5 x 79 in.



Railroad Car, 1998 Offset lithograph 18 x 26 in.



Saturation Painting (Buchenwald), 1960-1963 Photos and paper collage on canvas 38 x 38 in.



From a Happening, 1945, by Adolf Hitler, 1962 Lithograph on paper 18 x 15 in.



Immigrant’s NO Suitcase (Anti-Pop), 1963 Acrylic paint, fabric, and paper collage on suitcase 15 x 23 x 7

Immigrant’s NO Suitcase (Anti-Pop), 1963 Acrylic paint, paper collage, cloth on suitcase 31 x 25 x 13 in.



NO Sculpture (Shit Sculpture), 1964 Acrylic paint on plaster 15 x 27 x 24 in.

NO Sculpture (Shit Sculpture), 1964 Acrylic paint on plaster 15 x 22 x 9 in.



More Insurance, 1963 Paper collage and paint on cardboard 20 x 16 inches



NOs with Skull and Crossbones, 1963 Acrylic and spray paint on plywood 25 x 23 in.