By Jordan Hoffman

The difficult, devastating work of the Holocaust survivor turned painter is being celebrated at a new exhibition at New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage.

“He never sold a painting in his life, lived in hovels, yet died worth about $100m,” says Anthony Williams, chairman of the Boris Lurie Art Foundation, at a press preview for Boris Lurie: Nothing to Do But To Try. “He was,” he later says with a sigh, “a complicated man.”

The paradox of Boris Lurie’s living conditions is just one contour in the tragic and fascinating life of this painter, illustrator, sculptor, diarist, co-founder of the No!art movement, and concentration camp survivor, whose work is on display at the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Lower Manhattan.

The exhibition is the first contemporary art show in the museum’s 24-year history. The beauty and horror found in the nearly 100 pieces, most of which were created at a furious pace in 1946, and have since been called Lurie’s “War Series”, find an appropriate setting beside the museum’s core collection of Holocaust testimony and Judaica, a memorial garden designed by Andy Goldsworthy, and the home of the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, the longest continuously producing Yiddish theater company in the world, and longest continuously producing theater company of any language in the United States.

“This is a different kind of testimony,” Museum president Jack Kliger says, of the oftentimes nightmarish and disturbing images on display.

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