‘Boris Lurie: Nothing To Do But To Try’ at Museum of Jewish Heritage




Boris Lurie, ‘Roll Call in Concentrationn Camp, 1946’; 24 x 36 in. (61 x 91.4 cm); Oil on canvas board. Image courtesy of Boris Lurie Art Foundation

The Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust announces Boris Lurie: Nothing To Do But To Try, a first-of-its-kind exhibition on the 20th century artist and Holocaust survivor and the Museum’s first contemporary art show.

The exhibition is centered around Lurie’s earliest body of work (the paintings and drawings in his so-called “War Series”), as well as never-before-exhibited objects and ephemera from his personal archive, presenting a portrait of the artist reckoning with devastating trauma, haunting memories, and an elusive, lifelong quest for freedom. In drawing together artistic practice and historical chronicle, Boris Lurie: Nothing To Do But To Try is fertile new territory for the Museum of Jewish Heritage, offering a survivor’s searing visual testimony within a significant art historical context.

The exhibition opens to the public on October 22 and has been extended to November 6, 2022 at the Museum, located in lower Manhattan’s Battery Park City.

Boris Lurie (1924– 2008) grew up in cosmopolitan Riga, Latvia in the 1930s. He was just 16 years old when Latvia was occupied by the Nazis in 1941, and he and his family were forcibly evacuated to a ghetto. Later that year, his mother, grandmother, sister, and girlfriend were murdered, alongside approximately 25,000 other Jews, in what would come to be known as the massacre at Rumbula. In the years that followed, Lurie and his father together survived several labor and concentration camps throughout Latvia, Poland, and Germany, until liberation from Buchenwald-Magdeburg.

Lurie created his “War Series” in the immediate aftermath of the war, following his service with the United States Counter Intelligence Corps and subsequent immigration to New York.

Boris Lurie ‘ In Concentration Camp,” 1971. Oil on canvas. 50 1/4 x 49 1/4 in (127.6 x 125.1 cm). Courtesy of the Boris Lurie Art Foundation

In nearly 100 paintings and drawings made, with few exceptions, in 1946, the “War Series” ostensibly contains Lurie’s experiences of the war in a highly graphic, expressionist style: nightmarish camp scenes in riotous colors, laborers at work in striped uniforms, stark landscapes cut through with barbed wire, amorphous dream-like visions, and searing portraits. 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.

Included in the exhibition is Lurie’s only known self-portrait as a young man, in which he appears disembodied with a plaintive expression. There is also the exhibition’s largest masterpiece—a ghostly concentration camp scene, 50 by 50 inches in scale, painted in 1971 after the original “War Series” was made.

Nothing To Do But To Try is the first Boris Lurie exhibition exclusively to consider the entire “War Series,” alongside Lurie’s original family photographs, correspondence, diary entries, and assorted ephemera, as an essential origin story for Lurie’s life and work.

“The basis of my art education I obtained in a camp like Buchenwald,” Lurie once wrote, alluding both to his lack of professional training and to how his traumatic experience became rich, if fraught, artistic terrain—his survival itself the ultimate creative act.

“As a person and as an artist, Boris was ingeniously creative, in the sense of both imaginative and productive. Foregrounding his life—his biography, belongings, voluminous writings, his surroundings, even his library—in concert with his early artwork reveals a more nuanced portrait of the artist than ever before,” says Guest Curator Sara Softness. “Beyond his immensely expressive artistic talent, the exhibition really considers his devastating emotional life and how he existed in the world—all inescapably informed by his trauma.”

Unknown photographer (Boris Lurie passport photo, New York), ca 1945. Archival photograph. 2.25 x 2.5 in. Courtesy of the Boris Lurie Art Foundation

“Our institution is committed to centering the Holocaust’s victims and survivors in our every act of remembrance and education,” says Museum President & CEO Jack Kliger. “We are very honored to present this deeply moving exhibition and to have this opportunity to examine Holocaust history through the artistic brilliance of Mr. Lurie.”

“The Boris Lurie Art Foundation is pleased to have the Museum of Jewish Heritage exhibit the work of Boris Lurie, a mid-century artist, who lived through the horrors of the war and wanted to document the history which would keep the memory alive for a more peaceful future,” says Gertrude Stein, the Foundation’s Director.

The exhibition will be complemented by additional programs exploring Lurie’s life and legacy, including:

For more detail on these and other events, visit: https://mjhnyc.org/current-events/

Boris Lurie: Nothing To Do But To Try is curated by Sara Softness, an interdisciplinary curator and writer. The exhibition is made possible by The Knapp Family Foundation, Patricia Askwith Kenner & Family, and other generous donors.

Special thanks to the Boris Lurie Art Foundation for its commitment to this presentation.

Boris Lurie, “Liberation of Magdeburg” 1946. Pastel and gouache on paper. Courtesy of the Boris Lurie Art Foundation.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit:


  • $18 Adults

  • $12 ADA/Access, Seniors, Students, Veterans

  • FREE to children under 12 and NYC DOE K-12 students

  • FREE to Holocaust Survivors, active members of the military, first responders


To ensure compliance with local health and safety guidelines, proof of COVID-19 vaccination will be required for all Museum visitors 12 and older starting August 16, 2021. For more detailed information on the Museum’s safety protocols and requirements, visit: https://mjhnyc.org/visitor-information/health-and-safety/


Effective October 18, 2021, Museum hours will be:

Sunday and Wednesday: 10AM to 5PM

Thursday: 10AM to 8PM

Friday: 10AM to 3PM

The Museum will be closed on all other days, on Jewish Holidays, and on Thanksgiving.

The Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust is New York’s contribution to the global responsibility to never forget. The Museum is committed to the crucial mission of educating diverse visitors about Jewish life before, during, and after the Holocaust. The third largest Holocaust museum in the world and the second largest in North America, the Museum of Jewish Heritage anchors the southernmost tip of Manhattan, completing the cultural and educational landscape it shares with the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

The Museum of Jewish Heritage maintains a collection of almost 40,000 artifacts, photographs, documentary films, and survivor testimonies and contains classrooms, a 375-seat theater (Edmond J. Safra Hall), special exhibition galleries, a resource center for educators, and a memorial art installation, Garden of Stones, designed by internationally acclaimed sculptor Andy Goldsworthy. The Museum is the home of National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene.

The Museum receives general operating support from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and New York State Council on the Arts.

The Boris Lurie Art Foundation is dedicated to reflect the life, work and aspirations of the founder and to preserve and promote the NO!art movement with its focus on the social visionary in art and culture.

The Foundation maintains the artist’s massive body of work, poetry, personal writings and archives, as well as the works of other NO!art artists which are under its control, making them available to the public and institutions of learning throughout the world.

In the spirit of Mr. Lurie’s bequest, the foundation supports a variety of initiatives, including exhibitions, publications, films, acquisition, internships, and grants. Through this range of activity the Boris Lurie Foundation believes it will make a material contribution to the artistic, social and educational life of the community.

Boris Lurie: Nothing To Do But To Try will be on view from October 22, 2021 to November 6, 2022 at The Museum of Jewish Heritage, located at Edmond J. Safra Plaza,  36 Battery Place in Battery Park City, NYC.

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