Si Lewen’s life story is woven together with the story of the darkest years of the twentieth century. Born in Poland in 1918, his family first fled to Berlin to escape anti-Semitic persecution. As a teenager, he then fled to France to escape Hitler’s Germany. Two years later, in 1935, he emigrated to New York City where, at age seventeen, he was beaten and robbed by a racist police officer in Central Park. He began his art training in Berlin and Grenoble, France, and in the late 1930s studied at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League in New York. When World War II began, Lewen joined the army, and was among the first to see the Buchenwald concentration camp, just days after its liberation. After the war, he returned to America and again focused on his artistic career, eventually exhibiting his work at such prestigious venues as the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
Haunted by his wartime experiences, Lewen began to work on a narrative series of over seventy works on paper entitled A Journey, which tells the story of an imaginary visitor to a concentration camp. Unfolding like a novel without words, this series documents the visitor’s horror at what he sees, but goes further, as the visitor is asked to join the leaders of the camp in a macabre ‘dinner of death.’ When he refuses, he suffers the same fate as the camp’s many residents, and the series ends with a kind of resurrection as his spirit flies up to the heavens. Organized by the Michener Art Museum with the cooperation of the International Institute for Restorative Practices, this exhibit is a selection of more than twenty works from A Journey, accompanied by a nine-minute video that shows the complete body of work. Lewen’s deeply-felt and intensely expressive images of war and its victims led no less a figure than Albert Einstein to say, ‘Our time needs you and your work.’
Si Lewen: A Journey
December 4, 2010 - March 6, 2011