Metal crunching, prickly rustling? How should one describe the shrill noises that arise when walking through Wolf Vostell’s installation “Thermo-Electronic Chewing Gum”. Not to mention the chewing gum, the smacking sounds of which are transmitted to the speaker of a suitcase by means of a microsensor glued to the cheek.
The room is gloomy, outside there is a sign saying “enter at your own risk”. Barbed wire fences to the left and right evoke concentration camp associations. The spooky feeling of walking on 13,000 spoons and forks is counteracted by the “Juici Fruit” gum, which acts as a symbol of an all-banalizing capitalist way of life. Yes, the artist is working with analogies from the 1970s. Despite this, the installation has lost absolutely nothing of its audacious force. On the contrary: the images of violence and death seem tragically topical, even if the war in Ukraine delivers different ones every day.
It is artistic shock therapy that the Kunsthaus Dahlem is presenting in the exhibition “Art after the Shoah. Wolf Vostell in dialogue with Boris Luri” that visitors are warned about “disturbing images” at the entrance. Of the half-starved concentration camp inmates and corpses that the artist friends Vostell and Lurie repeatedly put in their weave in angry reappraisal of the Holocaust.
Wolf Vostell, born in 1932 and co-founder of the Fluxus movement, is one of the most important German artists of the 20th century. Boris Lurie was born in Leningrad in 1924, grew up in Riga and, as a Jew, experienced the National Socialist machinery of destruction firsthand.
The women in his family were murdered, he and his father were taken to a concentration camp and liberated in 1945. Lurie emigrated to New York, where he founded the NO!art movement in 1959 and lived as an artist and author until his death in 2008.
Against the established art business, against the complacency of consumer society and above all: against forgetting. With these thrusts, Lurie and Vostell are brothers in spirit. With his sculptures, object boxes, paintings, collages and happenings, Vostell acted as a thorn in the flesh of the Federal Republic throughout his life. The storm of indignation that rose in Berlin in 1987 against his concreted Cadillacs on Rathenauplatz is legendary.
When Vostell and Lurie met at a happening in 1964, it sparked immediately. And a fruitful artistic exchange, also documented in 94 letters, begins. This is what Dorothea Schöne, director of the Kunsthaus Dahlem, tells us. Schöne also initiated the exhibition as a homage in the run-up to the 90th birthday of Vostell, who died in 1998, and which will be in October.
The fact that swastikas and Jewish stars, which Boris Lurie aggressively stages in his collages and objects, are emblazoned here, of all places, in the former studio of Nazi sculptor Arno Breker as a kind of anti-propaganda of the destructive Nazi ideology, makes the impressive show doubly attractive floor one.
The fact that the city of Berlin gave Wolf Vostell the high hall, now used as a café, as a studio for life in 1984 was like a kind of exorcism. The range of his sculptures and paintings, which can be seen at the former place of their creation, now has the same effect.
The seven meter long triptych “Shoah 1492 – 1945”, which is also dedicated to the Jews who were once expelled from Spain and those murdered by the Nazi regime, is the central eye-catcher. In the 1997 painting, Vostell, who also lived in Spain, in Malpartida de Cáceres, lets a concrete pillar fall onto an abstract tangle of bodies. Despite the force of symbolism, colors and forms, the work is clearly reminiscent of Picasso. Vostell’s objects, in which the pioneer of video art also built TVs, appear much more independent.
However, the limited half-life of the technology proves to be a conservation challenge, as Dorothea Schöne says. The object boxes with the mini televisions, which originally linked current news with images of the New Reich Chancellery or a bombed-out city as a continuum of human violence, have lost a dimension because things are no longer working. The pictures “Stalingrad” and “8. May 1945” as a timeless one.
Unlike his colleague Vostell, Boris Lurie does not work with abstractions, but combines one-to-one shots of pin-up girls from the sixties with concentration camp pictures in his collages. In both photographs, which degrade people to objects, he is convinced that inhuman systems are manifested. That they are not history but continue to exist is a conviction he shares with Wolf Vostell.
Only that the Jew Lurie is outraged with the hot heart of the person concerned about the trivialization of the Shoah. Including the biting joke that made him write “From a happening, 1945 – by Adolf Hitler” under the picture of a half-naked, skinny concentration camp prisoner. That’s how crass it looks when two artists refuse to simply go back to business as usual after killing millions of people, a breach of civilization.