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Marc Chagall At The Jewish Museum

by Staff Reporter

"It is the first time that Chagall's 'Russian Period' is presented to us in this format. This exhibition demonstrates the fact that Chagall was the true giant of the 20th Century," said Yacob Baal-Teshuva, an international expert on the works of Chagall and a distinguished curator. "It is a special event because of the communist control of Russia. It was not possible to illuminate this period in Chagall's life," explained Baal Teshuva, the author of Marc Chagall, 1887-1985 (Taschen, 1998). Baal Teshuva believes in the notion that we cannot understand Chagall's works if we do not understand Judaism, Yiddish culture, Jewish mentality and Jewish humor. But Chagall himself was afraid that someone would define him as a Jewish artist. Indeed, Chagall was: "a poet with the wings of a painter."

The Jewish Museum (1109 Fifth Ave., Tel: 423-3271) is proud to present this unique exhibition. The closing date: Oct. 14, 2001. These great works of Chagall were never before seen in the U.S. This exhibition is a celebration for everyone. It shows a less known aspect of Chagall's (1887-1985) artistic greatness. In addition one can see some paintings of Chagall's teacher Yehuda Pen who was murdered by the Soviet N.K.V.D. (Secret Police) in 1937. There are 56 works of Chagall in this exhibition such as The Butcher (1910), The Musicians (1911), Woman and Roster (1916), Theatre (1920), The Jewish Wedding (1910). Pen's Letter From America (1913) should be noticed. Pen had an influence on Chagall who was one of his students in Vitebsk.

The exhibition includes paintings, drawings, and Chagall's murals for the state Jewish Chamber Theater in Moscow: "How did Marc Chagall invent images that have captured the imagination of Western society, becoming part of our artistic imagination and visual language?" Susan Tumarkin Goodman, curator of the exhibition, questions in her essay in the catalogue accompanying the show.

"The answer lies in his years in Russia, where he developed a powerful visual memory and a pictorial intelligence not limited to a mere configuration of his Russian life environs. Chagall's vision soared and he created a new reality, one that drew on both his inner and outer worlds." The works on view will underscore the artist's inspiration derived from the creative fusion of the provincial world of the Eastern European Jewish shtetl and the significant historical events of the time, including the outbreak of World War I and the 1917 Russian Revolution. Chagall's early works incorporate these influences, and manifest a uniqueness in the artist's ability to process and translate them into a language of visual metaphor that creates his singular expression. The Chagall works in this exhibition were left behind when Marc Chagall - one of the major figures of the Russian avant-garde - left Russia for good in 1922. Chagall returned to Russia only once, in 1973, to sign and date his murals, which were not seen again until 1990. Chagall's themes and memories - rooted in his Jewish identity, the life of his village, and his personal relationships - would often recur in his later art, but never with the same vivid passion and sense of discovery revealed in his early works.

Highlights of the exhibition include: Lovers in Blue (1914), which shows the artist with Bella Rosenfeld, who would become his wife, enveloped in a blue haze that binds them together, and is one of many paintings in Chagall's lyrical lover's cycle. Jew in Bright Red (1915), was motivated by the artist's chance encounter with a Vitebsk beggar. For Chagall, this individual evoked the spirituality of migrant rabbis and holy men who were prevalent in the life of Russia's Hasidic community. In The Promenade, (1917-1918), the artist grasps the floating, weightless Bella by her hand as she flutters in the wind, binding her to the ground. In the other hand he holds a small bird, a reference to Maurice Maeterlinck's play The Blue Bird, an allegorical fantasy that portrays a hero and heroine who find true love not in their travels, but when they return to their simple home.

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