The kind of inspiration that primitive, non-Western art provided for European artists of the early 20th century was, for the Russian avant-garde artists, to be found not in faraway civilizations but in two great traditions of their own country: Russian folk culture and religious icons. This connection between the Russian avant-garde and both religious and folk icons is explored in «When Chagall Learned to Fly: From Icon to Avant-Garde,» a special exhibition organized jointly by Thessaloniki’s State Museum of Contemporary Art and the Ikonen Museum in Frankfurt where it was exhibited first before opening yesterday in Thessaloniki. Based on a concept developed by the curator of the Ikonen Museum of Frankfurt, Dr Snejanka Bauer, the exhibition juxtaposes works of the avant-garde with religious icons, or the so-called «lubki» – popular folk prints that started out with a religious content (something like cheap reproductions of religious icons) but soon expanded to folk and genre themes. Malevich’s «Black Square» is, for example, placed next to a 16th century icon that depicts the holy mandylion (veil). «In this square, I see what people once saw in the image of God,» Malevich wrote, associating spirituality with his spare, abstract compositions. The exhibition is filled with similar, explicit comparisons between icons, lubki and the works of artists such as Vassily Kandinsky, Mikhail Larionov, El Lissitzky, Alexandra Exter, Lyubov Popova, Ivan Klyun, Alexander Rodchenko and Natalia Goncharova. Apparently, some artists were interested in the spiritual content of icons and others in their formal, visual qualities. The exhibition’s section on Marc Chagall is perhaps the most visually impressive. It includes the monumental «Commedia del’ Arte» which Chagall painted in 1959 for Frankfurt’s theater (it is being presented outside Frankfurt for the first time) and 14 preparatory drawings. The painting’s flying creatures – where the title of the exhibition comes from – comprised a favorite theme in the lubki iconography which Chagall consistently drew upon in his art. An innovative and theoretically interesting exhibition, «When Chagall learned to Fly» will last run through August. For more information, call 2310.589.140.