Si Lewen: The Parade presents an epic series of 63 drawings by Polish-born artist Si Lewen (1918–2016). Lewen, an immigrant who lived and worked in New York and Pennsylvania, witnessed the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945 while serving in the United States Army. In the 1950s he published a cutting-edge graphic novel that directly responded to these horrors, and this exhibition presents the full set of drawings that he created specifically for this book project. This important and rarely seen body of work powerfully engaged viewers when it debuted nearly seven decades ago and remains prescient and timely for audiences today.
The Parade begins with children and families making their way towards a celebration for the men that will soon be sent off to war. Over the course of the wordless narrative, Lewen explores the destruction and despair that takes hold of communities as violence builds and lives are lost. Featuring many of the hallmarks of Lewen’s art practice, the presentation style of The Parade unfolds cinematically, with each work driving the story forward. For this suite of drawings, Lewen pulled equal inspiration from print media and German Expressionism, an art movement that evoked emotional content through exaggerated forms. Each black-and-white sheet is a technical tour de force combining line and incisions into the surface of the paper.
Si Lewen was born in Lublin, Poland, and immigrated to the United States in 1935. During World War II, he served in the United States Army as part of a German-speaking Special Operations team known as the “Ritchie Boys.” His drawings are held in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, among others. The International Institute for Restorative Practices in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, serves as the primary lender for this presentation.
This exhibition, the first to bring together the complete set of works from The Parade, is organized by Kelly Montana, Assistant Curator at the Menil Drawing Institute.