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September 21, 2014 / 26 Elul, 5774
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Explore The Sacred


Menachem Wecker

Menachem Wecker

And yet there’s something more afoot in this work. Moses is delivering his pièce de résistance and knows that he won’t be entering the Holy Land, and yet his posture suggests a dance, not unlike McBee’s works on “David Dancing.” If one of the important traits of a strong leader is projecting optimism even in the face of desperation, McBee’s Moses performs splendidly, and McBee’s treatment of Moses as both the focus of the composition as well as one element in a larger symphony anchors the narrative in a particular place – one might say, adapting “The Maltese Falcon,” that Moses looms on the edge, but ultimately is barred from what dreams are made of – in a way that text cannot accomplish alone.

McBee’s Mountain Torah reminds me, in its structure, of a Max Liebermann painting. A figure in white (Moses wearing a kittel?) ascends a golden mountain in the top left corner, as a cacophony of figures, which range from men wearing prayer shawls to angels, fill the bottom and right side of the canvas. Moses, if indeed he is receiving the Tablets of the Law at Sinai, enjoys silent commune with God, and it’s no wonder that the chaos surrounding the other figures helps breed a Golden Calf. Moses hands hang at his sides; his peers’ gesticulate wildly as Hebrew letters soar above them.

The trick, of course, is for Moses to bring those tablets, which he studied so perfectly with God, down into the chaos and to allow them to illuminate the world beneath the mountain – perhaps like the word of God emerging from the chasm between the light and shadow in Fedida’s Genesis works.

About the Author: Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.


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The exhibit, according to a statement from guest curator Michele Waalkes which is posted on the museum website, “examines how faith can inform and inspire artists in their work, whether their work is symbolic, pictorial, or textual in nature. It further explores how present-day artwork can lead audiences to ponder God, religious themes, venerated traditions, or spiritual insights.”

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It all started at an art and education conference at the Yeshiva University Museum. When one of the speakers misidentified a Goya painting at the Frick Collection, both the gentleman sitting next to me and I turned to each other and corrected the error simultaneously.

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