Si Lewen: The Parade

Apr 21 – Sep 3, 2023
Menil Drawing Institute

Si Lewen: The Parade presents an epic series of sixty-three 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 as a member of an elite force of native German-speaking G.I.s. called the Ritchie Boys. 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 were created specifically for this book project.

Without a single written word, The Parade speaks to cycles of war, the seductive glory and pomp, followed by soldier enlistment, community deprivation, devastating destruction, death, and heartbreak. When the war ends, the cycle repeats. The artist was born during the final days of World War I; the armistice parades after that conflict, the rise of Nazism, and the brutal violence of World War II, all inform his haunting tale.

The Parade begins with children and families making their way toward 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. 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.

This exhibition is the first in the United States to bring together the complete set of works from The Parade. The International Institute for Restorative Practices in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, serves as the lender for this presentation.

Si Lewen: The Parade is curated by Kelly Montana, Assistant Curator, Menil Drawing Institute.

This exhibition is generously supported by Leslie Field and Morris A. Weiner; Jacquelyn Barish; Rice University’s Boniuk Institute for Religious Tolerance; Barbara and Michael Gamson; Heidi and David Gerger; Caroline Huber; Lois and George Stark; and the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance.

About the Artist

A Polish Jewish refugee, Si Lewen grew up in Germany, where he observed the political and cultural upheaval happening around him. In 1933, when Hitler came to power, he fled to France with his brother and later immigrated to the United States. After enlisting in the U.S. Army and joining an elite unit of German-speaking special forces called “The Ritchie Boys,” he saw action in Normandy and visited the Buchenwald concentration camp shortly after its liberation in 1945. The artist was devastated by the atrocities of the Holocaust.

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.

In Conversation: Art Spiegelman on Si Lewen and Graphic Novels. | The Menil Collection, Houston, TX. May 4, 2023.
“Si Lewen: The Parade” at the Menil Drawing Institute, Houston. Video: Jay Clark
Dr. Joshua Furman Lecture: Antisemitism in the Archive: Documenting Prejudice in Houston Jewish History | The Menil Drawing Institute, Houston, TX. June 8, 2023.