The Judaic folklore that floats through the art of Marc Chagall made him a natural for illustrating biblical stories. That's why an exhibit of Chagall's works on paper, culled from the Baltimore Museum of Art's own collection, is happily centered around an illustrated 1966 book, "The Story of the Exodus," for which
Chagall made 24 lithographs.
For a sense of Chagall at his lyrical best in this book, just look at the lithograph depicting the young Moses being discovered along the Nile by the daughters of Pharoah. These figures all seem to float even though they are standing on the ground. Chagall's illustrations for other episodes in the life of Moses also rely on sinuously massed bodies floating in such a way as to effortlessly carry our eyes through the narrative.
The distorted and dreamy extremes to which Chagall took his approach can be seen in other exhibited work, too. His oil, gouache, crayon and pastel "Flowers in a Dream" features a tilted stool serving as the base for a vase of flowers that seems about to take off over Chagall's beloved Russian village of Vitebsk. The presence of an angel in the scene makes it seem all the more likely that at some point the flowers will indeed ascend.
"Chagall's Exodus" is on view at the Baltimore Museum of Art through Dec. 30. The overtly Judaic art in much of this show complements an exhibit of treasures from New York's Jewish Museum opening Sunday at the BMA. For details, call 396-6310.
Elsewhere around town, the Jewish Community Center has a two-artist exhibit that pairs Israeli artist Mordecai Tennenbaum and Baltimore artist Bennard Perlman. Their subject matter and styles are so different that to put their work in the same exhibit is hard to justify. Perhaps one could argue that the very contrast is instructive, but it isn't clear what instruction it offers.
Born in Poland in 1920, Tennenbaum was the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust. His oil paintings offer scenes of happier days in the pre-Holocaust shtetls of Poland, and also scenes that directly bring home the horror of Nazi persecution. In one painting, a father prepares to hide his daughter in a village that looks as if it has few hiding places; the dark clouds in the sky are as expressive as the daughter clutching her father. Several paintings of the Warsaw ghetto are reminiscent of Picasso in his blue period: there is a grayish-blue malaise around these sullen ghetto dwellers.
Tennenbaum favors dense, roughly worked colors, which often seem appropriate for his brooding subjects; however, the visible weave of the canvas itself in some paintings detracts from our immersion in these scenes.
This Israeli artist is also represented by watercolors that, as their medium warrants, are looser and lighter in nature. Here one sees more cheerful skies brightening the day of the milkman and the klezmer musician.
Sharing the JCC gallery is Baltimore artist Bennard Perlman. If you recognize Perlman's exhibited charcoal drawings, it's because they were done as illustrations for the Op-Ed pages of the Sun.
Of his nautical and city scenes, the best have a strong feeling for architectural line. Perlman makes you notice how assertively a railroad bridge crosses the main street in Ellicott City.
Among Perlman's oil paintings on display, "Sunday Morning" has a similar regard for the clean architectural lines formed by a sunlit block of houses. You may find yourself smiling warmly, too, as you think of the influence of Edward Hopper.
"From Israel to Baltimore: Tennenbaum and Perlman" remains at the Jewish Community Center, at 5700 Park Heights Ave., through Jan. 6. For details, call 542-4900.