“This exposure is pretty deep,” Softness said. “What makes it so suitable for the Museum of Jewish Heritage is that it takes this set of Boris Lurie’s artwork and takes the opportunity to explore his entire biography and how he conducted his life as a survivor and as an artist.
“The artwork functions as art history, but primarily through the lens of Holocaust remembrance, telling individual stories.”
Lurie (1924-2008) grew up in cosmopolitan Riga, Latvia in the 1930s. At just 16 years old, the Nazi occupation took hold of Latvia. He and his family were forcibly evacuated to a ghetto. Later that year, his mother, grandmother, sister and girlfriend were killed, along with approximately 25,000 other Jews, in what would become known as the Rumbula massacre.
In the following years, Lurie and her father survived several concentration and labor camps together in Latvia, Poland, and Germany, until the liberation of Buchenwald-Magdeburg.
Lurie created her “War Series” immediately after the war, following her service with the United States Counterintelligence Corps and subsequent immigration to New York.
Although best known for his artwork from the 1960s, the exhibition focuses on Lurie’s early paintings and drawings, dubbed her “War Series.” He viewed the nearly 100 images as a private emotional release and never exhibited them in his life. The exhibition includes the only known self-portrait of Lurie when she was young, in which she appears disembodied with a plaintive expression.
The exhibition is a collaboration with the Boris Lurie Art Foundation, based in Clifton, NJ. Posthumously, Lurie’s artwork has been exhibited primarily in Europe. “Obviously, this requires tons of art shipping with great expense and logistics,” explained Softness. “So this collaboration, here in New York, resulted in us being able to display many more works of art and explore his personal archive in depth.”
“We are very honored to present this deeply moving exhibition and to have the opportunity to examine the history of the Holocaust through the artistic brilliance of Mr. Lurie,” he said.
Softness, who has curated several exhibitions at the Brooklyn and Guggenheim museums, called Lurie’s exhibit a “visual witness,” unlike the rest of the museum, which is handled more orally.
“What Boris manages to do with his visual language is allow such a depth of emotional feeling, which is very welcome in this space,” he said. “To tell these stories in a humane way, Boris doesn’t emerge as a perfect person; it is quite complex and nuanced. It gives us the opportunity to see his life from the inside out. ”
“It is a privilege to show Boris’ work in such depth,” said Softness. “He had an incredible talent for telling his own story and I want to make sure he can do it.”
The exhibition on Lurie’s life and legacy is scheduled for April 29, 2022.