Modernist & joyous seldom appear in the same sentence, yet both describe the work of Marc Chagall, who has achieved an afterlife in the age of mechanical reproduction comparable only to Monet. Thus i never quite warmed to this artist, though anyone who could make a cow seem mysterious surely warranted a second chance.
So i hied myself down to the Biblical Arts Center (across from Northpark), where some of his prints were being shown, but first a word about the setting. Its main purpose still is to produce the son et lumiere show Miracle at Pentecost; little by little portions of the painting are illuminated, to music & a narrative from Mark; then the whole huge thing at once, like a striptease epiphany.
This greatly impressed me at a tender age (unjaded as yet by the bombasts of Hollywood), & now it brings a nostalgic smile. There must not be a single living relic of the heyday of the great 19c panoramas besides this one; perhaps the Mysteries of Eleusis operated similarly.
And why not apply its principles to other (need i say better?) art? — A Night Gallery presentation of Bacons would be horripilating indeed (music by Diamanda Galas)... But i digress.
Chagall always got by with his blurry, sublimated reveries not so much on his drawing & composition, which were strictly pedestrian, but on account of his rich interplay of colors, tantalizing, just this side of oversweet. (Picture Gorky without insomnia.)
With his palette decimated & his brushwork restricted to the handful of effects possible for a lithograph, the result is vague & cartoony, just as you would expect, but what’s surprising is how close this puts him to the world of Oriental ink painting.
His gestures have become economical & evocative, instead of prolix & bewildering, & i think the need to dramatize a specific story (although you couldn’t guess from each image what that story is) works in his favor too.
In Esther the figure might have been limned by Modigliani. More than any of the others, this image — with its delicacy & sense of landscape — reverbrates. Along with Job Disconsolate, whose staring green eye centers a vortex of shadows, they suggest a very different Chagall than the ebullient circus master, one that might have had something to say to the 21c.
Also on exhibit are prints by Ben-Zion such as And They Went In Unto Noah In To The Ark — Wherein Is The Breath Of Life, showing mainly just how ubiquitous the influence of late Picasso had grown.
That wouldn’t have been my first pick of an idiom appropriate for Genesis.