by Shiryn Ghermezian
The first contemporary art show opening this month at The Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York City will showcase never-before-seen works and artifacts from an artist and Holocaust survivor.
Nothing to Do But To Try focuses on the earliest works of Boris Lurie, such as the paintings and drawings in his “War Series,” as well as newly-exhibited objects and ephemera from his personal archive. Together, the art and artifacts show “a portrait of the artist reckoning with devastating trauma, haunting memories, and an elusive, lifelong quest for freedom,” the museum said.
“Lurie’s identity was as informed by being an artist as he was by being a survivor,” the exhibit’s curator, Sara Softness, told The Algemeiner. “This show presents both sides of him in all that complexity — in a deeply expressive, visually powerful way.”
Lurie was born in Riga, Latvia, in 1924. When Nazis invaded and occupied Latvia in 1941, a 16-year-old Lurie and his family were forcibly moved to a ghetto. Later that year, his mother, grandmother, sister, and girlfriend were murdered, as well as roughly 25,000 other Jews, in what is known as the massacre at Rumbula. Lurie and his father survived several labor and concentration camps throughout Latvia, Poland, and Germany, until finally being liberated from the Magdeburg work camp at the Buchenwald concentration camp.
“I hope that visitors will learn a great deal about the life and work of Boris Lurie, of course; but perhaps more importantly, that they will have access to an emotional depth that art, in some ways, is uniquely suited to offer Holocaust remembrance and education,” said Softness.
Lurie created most of his “War Series” in 1946 immediately after World War II and following his service with the United States Counter Intelligence Corps and later immigration to New York. He died in 2008. The “series” includes nearly 100 graphic and expressionist style paintings and drawings. According to the museum, “as suggested by their somewhat unfinished, chaotic style, as pages ripped from a notebook, Lurie considered these pictures a private catharsis, and never exhibited them in his lifetime.”
Nothing To Do But To Try is the first Lurie exhibition exclusively to consider the entire “War Series” along with Lurie’s original family photographs, correspondence, diary entries, only known self-portrait and other objects. He once wrote, “The basis of my art education I obtained in a camp like Buchenwald.”
The exhibition is also the museum’s first in-depth, monographic contemporary art show.
Softness said, “While curating an art exhibition for the museum is a much different undertaking than developing a historical or memorial exhibition, which is more typical of what the institution presents, the organizing principle is the same: We center the testimony of survivors and the experiences of the Holocaust’s victims, resistors, and liberators.”
“In general Lurie is an under-appreciated artist — but even more so, so much of the artwork that’s featured in the exhibition is material that has either very rarely or never been seen,” she added. “To get to continue making discoveries about this artist, and then to view him through his biographical experience as a Holocaust survivor, is really a mutually beneficial territory between a history museum and the art world.”
Boris Lurie: Nothing To Do But To Try opens on Oct. 22 and will run through April 29, 2022, at The Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. The exhibition will be complemented by additional programs about Lurie’s life and legacy, including an exclusive lecture with Softness.