|Boris Lurie, 2014|
18"W x 24"H acrylic on canvas
In a booth at the LA Art Show, I was privy to a conversation between a prominent art dealer and a friend of mine. It was stunning how similar the dealer’s take on the overall show was to mine: not much newsworthy on display! But more interesting were his thoughts on the contemporary art world, which he compared to a pyramid scheme, with those at the top doing very well—inflating prices by creating art stars out of trend-based young artists, and everyone else below suffering, underpricing their stock to survive. Boris Lurie had no regard for the commerce of art in general because he felt that art was meant to incite social action rather than to enrich a gated community of fat cats. Though his conclusions about the art world’s corporate and academic takeover were bleak, the dealer went on to make a promising remark: “When nothing is important, anything’s possible." Afterward, my friend and I continued wandering around the Convention Center, and amongst the ceramic balloons, tentacled cartoon creatures, and doe-eyed nymphets, I kept imagining Lurie’s imagery—sobering, defiant, wailing!
Lurie’s masterpiece, “Railroad to America,” cuts to the root of capitalism; a flatcar of corpses at Buchenwald superimposed with a soft-core girlie pinup. His message is that genocide is just as much a commodity in this world as anything else. With the right kind of carrot, a madman can sell mass murder to millions of people. And Hitler used every means of advertising to accomplish his atrocities, most notably radio, leaflets, and billboards. Lurie, a Holocaust survivor, had been particularly sensitive to how oppressive forces work tirelessly to manipulate the masses, so it’s no wonder he was anti-Pop-art, which celebrates the glories of consumer society. He considered Warhol’s “Campbell’s Soup Cans” a swipe at the lower classes because those images mocked what they must consume. To Lurie, Pop-art was jingoistic, and the death knell to art’s true purpose which is to explore the subjects of real life. And it was a sick excuse for propping up a highfalutin fantasy, and its purpose was to make rich people richer all the while destroying and diminishing the public’s access to societal art.
Today, the tentacles of Pop-art are evident everywhere, and it’s unnerving that generations of artists care little or nothing about the consequences of submitting to the golden ticket to a popularity that it promises. But it’s understandable, artists are people too, and they want comforts just like everyone else. And if turning a blind eye to discomforting subjects makes their life easier and their fans happier, then it’s a win win for all, right? No!