Boris Lurie, "Untitled (On Stomach)", c. 1963. Courtesy: Boris Lurie Art Foundation
Boris Lurie, “Untitled (On Stomach)”, c. 1963. Courtesy: Boris Lurie Art Foundation

At least two possibilities of etymology are attributed to the obscene adjective. In Latin, the word classifies what is opposed to modesty, is rude or vulgar. In Greek semantics, there is a link to the theater, where the obscene is what should be left out of the picture, because it is inappropriate to show to spectators - for example, the staging of sacrifices. In his work, the Russian plastic artist Boris Lurie (1924-2008) seems to suggest the visual and symbolic translation of an etymological game in which he uses the meaning of the Latin, as an allegory, and subverts the Greek – that is, places “within scene” — the obscenity of the Holocaust, which he survived, and of the consumer society, a constant target of criticism in his creations.

Railroad Collage (Railroad to America), a collage made in 1963, could not be more emblematic of these two vectors of her practice, as it shows a pin-up girl – a typical voluptuous model in advertising in the 1960s, a mercantilizing objectification of the female body – among the anonymous corpses of murdered Jews by the Nazi regime.

The collage and 43 of his other works — a set that also includes drawings, paintings and sculptures — are on display at the show. Art, Mourning and Survival, on display at the Jewish Museum of São Paulo. And the etymological play suggested here is not the only possible key to interpreting his work, unpublished in Brazil. Invited in May of last year by the MUJ to be the curator of the exhibition, Felipe Chaimovich began the selection of works to be exhibited through catalogs of the Boris Lurie Art Foundation and the website of the institution itself.

But Chaimovich claims that he came to better understand the peculiarities of his production after reading two books by the artist, both of which have not been translated into Portuguese. The first one was the diary. In Riga — A memoir, which speaks, through memories, but also fictional elements, of his first trip, in 1975, back to the capital of Latvia, where he lived as a child and teenager. The second was a fiction, anita house, which takes place in an apartment in New York, with four dominatrices and sexual slaves who live in a consenting sadomasochistic relationship.

“It's very dense from the point of view of reporting sexual scenes, of all sadomasochistic games. And you see that all of this is a very profound element of his artistic universe, reflected in a series of his works, ”says Chaimovich. The curator says that, after reading Lurie's literary work, he began to pay “more attention to this production that talks about sadomasochism and to understand the prominence of the female figure”.

“It's something that starts, in my interpretation of her writings, from the memory of her own mother, who decided who would separate in the family when the Riga ghetto, where they were, was going to be evacuated. She determines that the women would go to the evacuation camp, while Boris and his father would go to the forced labor camp, ”she says. “The mother is this woman who decides the fate of the family. Lurie will elaborate the figure of the woman as being dominant, who sentences life and death.”

Born in 1924 in Leningrad, Russia, Boris lived in Riga until he was a teenager. In 1941, his mother, maternal grandmother, younger sister and his first girlfriend were murdered in an evacuation camp. Lurie and her father, in turn, went through forced labor and concentration camps, survived the Holocaust and, freed in 1945, emigrated to the USA.

In New York, Lurie began artistic training, in which he developed “new ways of dealing with memory”, says Chaimovich. From this process was born, in 1947, The Portrait of My Mother before the Shooting. for the curator, the maternal figure becomes a key work in the artistic equation he creates between mourning and creation. At the end of the 1940s, says Chaimovich, Lurie went to the Art Students League, conceived “a figurative gestural painting, quite current in that period”. In 1951, he travels to Paris in 1951 and has contact with gestural artists of the time, a very international production, recurring between the two cities, ”he explains.

Boris Lurie, "The Portrait of My Mother Before the Shooting", 1947. Courtesy: Boris Lurie Art Foundation
Boris Lurie, “The Portrait of My Mother Before the Shooting”, 1947. Courtesy: Boris Lurie Art Foundation

At the end of the 1950s, continues Chaimovich, Lurie began to make collages with pin-ups and garbage, “something very related to the neo-Dada of the New York counterculture scene in which he participated”. The curator emphasizes that the use of garbage, as a critique of the consumer society, “which sees its other side, that of disposal”, is not peculiar to his production, but a point in common among his contemporaries. “And trash appears in a lot of his collages. An element of aggression and disclosure of what the cycle of consumption is”. It was in 1960 that Lurie founded No!art, a movement against the values ​​of that society.

At the turn of the 1960s to the 1970s, the artist began his works with sadomasochistic images. In the 1970s, he also produced sculptures, often using cement, says the curator. And one of the themes that run through several moments of his production is the presence of the yellow Star of David, which he, as a Jew, was forced to wear in the Riga ghetto. “And he continues to use it in his clothes, even when he goes to New York,” recalls Chaimovich.

The figure of the dominating woman becomes a recurring theme in her work, in various contexts — from the pin-ups of the consumer society to the dominance of sadomasochism. Citing Lurie's two books, Chaimovich points out that the only two times he uses the word queen, in both titles, is to refer to his mother and Anita, the fictional character, dominatrix.

“There is also in Lurie's work a certain elaboration of what are the sexualized relations between the prisoner and the person imprisoning, in turn a very recurrent theme in psychoanalysis. And that is, without a doubt, one of the dimensions of Boris Lurie's work, too. The film the night porter (1974), by Liliana Cavani, talks about exactly that. It is a common subject in art, which goes to elaborate the experience of the Holocaust. And he was also addressing this in his production, ”she ponders.

There is no lack of examples in Art, Mourning and Survival. in the collage American (c. 1970), now exhibited at the MUJ, amid pin-ups, a woman is seen being tortured by a Nazi soldier, sporting the swastika on her uniform. There is an uncomfortable and purposeful dialogue between this work and another of her collages, [Untitled (Deliberate Pinup)], c. 1972-1973, in which Lurie includes a sadomasochistic relationship in an apparent magazine clipping.

Boris Lurie, as already mentioned, did not sell his works. He was against artists entering the art market, which he considered a consumerist action. But he made his fortune in the financial market, during his life in the USA, and left that capital so that, after his death, the foundation which bears his name, in order to care for his work in posterity. Also part of this heritage is a set of three thousand works that he produced and left as a legacy.

“The foundation has been looking for relevant museums to propose these exhibitions and finance them, as is the case with MUJ”, says the curator. “It is, therefore, a very consistent job to project your work internationally. Because he circulated well in New York, Paris and Israel circles, but, as he did not sell his works, he never had collections that projected him into mainstream art history”.

Chaimovich also says that, in the guided tours he has already taken at the MUJ, he noticed a lot of interest on the part of the public, for the discovery of an artist who has a very unique elaboration of the experience of the Holocaust and, at the same time, of the consumer society.

“This bridge he makes is an impressive discovery because he is an artist who never sweeps anything under the rug and, above all, makes explicit all the forms of humiliation, prejudice, that he experienced, and this becomes the theme of his production, as for example the ostensive use of the yellow star. It is a way of preventing forgetting and confronting the public with the memory of extremely violent things, ”he concludes.

Boris Lurie – Art, Mourning and Survival
Until July 9
Curator: Felipe Chaimovich
Jewish Museum of São Paulo (MUJ) – Rua Martinho Prado, 128 – São Paulo (SP)
Visitation: Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 am to 19 pm (last entry at 18 pm)
Admission: R$ 20 (full); BRL 10 (half)





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