Mystical Imprints: Marc Chagall, Ben-Zion, and Ben Shahn presents the print work of three prominent 20th century Jewish artists born in the Russian Empire. Among these seventy pieces are etchings and lithographs from Chagall’s Bible series, Ben-Zion’s full 1980 portfolio The 36 Unknown, Shahn’s iconic The Alphabet of Creation, and more. Organized in partnership with the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML) at Saint John’s University, the exhibition draws on HMML’s remarkable collection of works on paper. Most of the works in Mystical Imprintshave never been exhibited by HMML before.
The tradition of Jewish mysticism as an inspiration for these artists is at the center of the exhibition, from Ben-Zion’s suffering prophets, to Shahn’s Kabbalah influences, to Chagall’s dreamlike images. As well as tradition, a personal sense of mysticism is evident in each artist’s work. Chagall mixed his Russian childhood, Jewish history, and his own symbology to create works of dense metaphysical imagery. Ben-Zion, to use his own word, “adored” prophets and intimately explored their lives and emotional journeys in his work. Shahn found meaning in the great work of Jewish mysticism, the Kabbalah text the Sefer ha-zohar, and in his own joy in the power of letters and words.