Bau's past informs his best images Art review

March 25, 1998|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

Usually an artist's art is more interesting than his life. That's not the case with Joseph Bau.

Now having his first show in this country at the Jewish Community Center, Bau was born in Krakow, Poland, in 1920 and began to study art in 1938. The outbreak of World War II in 1939 interrupted his studies. He was confined to the Jewish ghetto in Krakow and was subsequently sent to the Plaszow and Gross-Rosen concentration camps. He had taken a course in Gothic printing, a style which the Nazis liked, and they employed him making charts.

While at Plaszow, he met and fell in love with Rebecca Tannenbaum and married her secretly in 1944, disguising himself as a woman to get into the women's barracks for the ceremony. The marriage is shown in the film "Schindler's List." Subsequently, Joseph Bau was put on Schindler's list, which enabled him to work for Oskar Schindler in a Czechoslovakian factory.

Rebecca Bau was sent to Auschwitz but survived the war, and the couple were reunited. In 1950 they emigrated to Tel Aviv, Israel, and Joseph Bau became known in subsequent decades as an artist and film animator.

The JCC exhibit came about after a Bau daughter, visiting Baltimore, approached the center about doing a show. It brings together paintings, drawings and prints and reveals an artist strongest in the areas of illustration, caricature and satire. His paintings, slightly expressionist in their use of color, feature people with oversized heads and sketchily defined bodies. They frequently look anecdotal ("Gossipers," "The Jealous Trio") and would work well as illustrations. A few, including "A Cello Player" and "Accordion and Flute Players," stand out. Others, such as "Opera Singers," are extremely weak and would have been better edited out of the show.

Among Bau's best works are the humorous ones, sometimes possessing an aspect of caricature like political cartoons. "Rich Man Disbursing Alms" shows a thoroughly self-satisfied subject. "The Burocrat" has a file box for a head. "The Pessimist" swallows razor blades. "A Statue Looking at a Visitor" and "Lion Tamer Eating a Lion" are just plain funny.

And the show includes a small group of harrowing drawings of concentration camp life, such as "Entrance through the Gate, Exit through the Chimney," "Forty Lashes," "Germans Dragging Me" and "Dividing the Bread." These, among the smallest works in the show, are the most effective.

'When Joseph Bau Bites'

Where: Jewish Community Center, 5700 Park Heights Ave.

When: Noon to 5 p.m. Sundays; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays; 3 to 5 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; noon to 2: 30 p.m. Fridays, through May 10

Call: 410-542-4900

Pub Date: 3/25/98

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