Art Review:NO! Art Group

Dedicated to artists from the NO! Art movement and against this polemical quote above, the art on show is clearly linked to the Dada movement.

Sam Goodman Doom Show Poster Assemblage 1961  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Sam Goodman Doom Show Poster Assemblage 1961
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Marcel Janco  Dada Museum
Ein Hod
Curator: Raya Zommer-Tal
‘Welcome to this exhibition. If your eyes and mind serve you well, you will see something new. When viewing this show, please avoid applying aesthetic labels; do not call us realists, neo-Dadaists, surrealists. These labels are neither true nor important in today’s context.” (Boris Lurie, 1961).
Dedicated to artists from the NO! Art movement and against this polemical quote above, the art on show is clearly linked to the Dada movement where sixteen artists are represented, each in their peculiar modality protesting against art and society in New York in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
The excellent catalogue with text by Dr. Irit Miller details the strategies and the revolt of these artists in greater detail, and so I will just pen some of my impressions but urge the reader to have a look for themselves. What immediately catches the viewer’s attention is the desire on the part of the artists – and certainly still relevant today – is the uncanny ability to resist bourgeois taste, the politics of the pretty picture. Instead, one is confronted with sculptures that refer to excrement, with pop imagery littered with pornographic content, with violence and a kind anesthetic combination of rough textures and graffiti-like writings. There are assemblages and constructions that intentionally upend the idea of a sculptural object that sits neatly on a plinth saluting culture and reason.
Instead what one finds are highly guttural and instinctual works that decry the assumed status of culture, learning and reason. In order to question the moral decency of the times, to simply paint a pretty picture would justify the terrors and violence and abuse in society. Therefore, art is a weapon with which to question such values and the methods for doing so is precisely to develop a new aesthetic or more accurately an alternative aesthetic that hits hard at prevailing values and assumptions about art. And the artists do so with “expert” brilliance as the catalogue text summarizes: “…the large collages of Stanley Fisher center on distorted portraits. The plaster sculptures of Rocco Armento are deliberately damaged. Isser Aronovici’s gouache paintings focus on distorted figures. Wolf Vostelli’s collages and assemblages combine photographs and objects. John Fisher produced a series of unappetizing sculptures made from bread…. Dorothy Gillespie produced coffins for animals… and Boris Lurie’s work are lumps of shit…” And the list continues, including castrated bodies by Jean-Jacques Labell.
Clearly, there is a deep undercurrent of the id, the primitive and perhaps enduring mark that underlies the ills of society that the veneer of order and reason simply tries to conceal. Rather, it is lust and that which evades reason that appears to drive humanity in an inexorable spate of madness and violence.
It is not simply the eye that scans these odd “works of art” (and the quotation marks do not indicate that this is not art, though the artists concerned were not recognized, by and large, in their time), but evokes the sense of touch and disgust. It is this shock value, however, that I believe makes such works hard-hitting, repelling the rather weak notion that art is just a pretty picture on the wall and its use is therefore the sterile aesthetics of beauty without anything confrontational and the like. Rather, it is the integration with what one might call the shadow side – the nauseating, repulsive and grotesque – that ironically leads to health.
The methods and concerns of these artists clearly continue a theme began with Dadaism and their presence even today is a necessary bulwark to the superficial concept of art as an auxiliary to the beautification of homes and institutions. For it is the home and institution that itself often needs surgery. Art then can assist in defying norms and being a catalyst to change and transformation in the positive sense and curiously, through engaging the “darker,” “animal” side of our nature.