Friday, 20 July 2012 00:00
Beginning next week, the Nassau County Museum of Art will be hosting its most ambitious exhibit since the highly popular Norman Rockwell display.
From July 21 to Nov. 4, the museum will be featuring the works of Marc Chagall. The museum describes it as a “treasure house of Chagall’s works,” including the first local showing of a 1957 Bible series of hand-colored etchings.
“If we had nothing of Chagall but his Bible, he would be for us a great modern artist,” commented the famed art historian, Meyer Schapiro.
Indeed, the theme of the exhibit comes from a quote from Chagall himself.
“The Bible is life, an echo of nature, and this is the secret I have endeavored to transmit,” said Chagall in a statement on his work.
Two years ago, Ambassador Arnold Saltzman, the founding president and current executive vice president of Nassau County Museum of Art, proposed a highly ambitious undertaking—an exhibition that would make the museum’s galleries a treasure house of works by Chagall.
The museum’s former director, Constance Schwartz, was enlisted to organize an extraordinary exhibition of Chagall’s work, more extensive than any other previously seen in this area, and including paintings being shown to the Long Island public for the first time.
Saltzman and Schwartz reached out for important loans from the many collectors, galleries and museums that they had established relationships with over the years. These efforts have resulted in “Marc Chagall,” a major exhibition that features significant paintings and a large selection from Chagall’s series of 105 hand-colored etchings of Bible stories that he produced in 1957. These etchings have never before been seen on Long Island.
The exhibit is supported by the Saltzman Family Foundation and The David Berg Foundation. The works selected for the exhibition demonstrate how Chagall, throughout a long and distinguished career, incorporated facets of his early Russian-Jewish heritage into multilayered works. Chagall’s storytelling paintings portray a fantastic pictorial world where heaven and earth seem to meet, and couples are always in love. It’s a world where people and animals—cows, goats, donkeys, horses and birds—float upside down or sideways, irrespective of the laws of gravity. Chagall’s hypersensitive imagination is palpable as he shares with the viewer his memories of family in brilliantly colored works set amidst the houses and streets of his native Vitebsk.
The Bible etchings on view in the exhibit are on loan from the Haggerty Art Museum of Marquette University in Milwaukee. Chagall’s biographer, Franz Meyer, wrote: “Chagall’s ties with the Bible are very deep indeed; the forms that people its world are a part of his own inner life, part of the living Jewish heritage, and thus are archetypes of a greater, more intensive world.” In Marc Chagall—The Graphic Works, Meyer speculates that the significance of the Bible in Chagall’s work was rooted in his early childhood experiences in Russia.
Marc Chagall (1887-1985) was the eldest of nine children born to a poor Russian-Jewish family in the village of Vitebsk. His artistic talent was evident early with a distinctive style of images from childhood emerging during his studies with Leon Bakst in St. Petersburg. Working in Paris from 1910 to 1914, Chagall began to produce paintings inspired by Russian folklore and village life. During World War I, Chagall returned to Russia, ascending to the post of Commissar for Fine Arts in Vitebsk. It was there that he produced works that were to become his most famous—images in strong, bright colors depicting otherworldly states that fused fantasy, nostalgia and religion. He returned to France permanently after World War I, save for the years of the Nazi occupation when he fled to the safety of New York and its environs.
The museum is offering several exhibition-related programs to enhance understanding and enjoyment of the Chagall exhibition. Artists of the 20th Century: Marc Chagall is a 50-minute film, screening daily from Friday July 21 through Sunday, Nov. 4; the film explores Chagall’s Russian-Jewish roots.
Lunchtime lectures on the exhibition will be offered on Tuesday, Aug. 23, Thursday, Sept. 20 and Thursday, Oct. 25, On Saturday, Oct. 6, Director Emerita and Guest Curator Constance Schwartz discusses the exhibition; she will be joined by art collector Ambassador Arnold A. Saltzman, the museum’s founding president.
On Saturday, Sept. 15, a Klezmer band presents a concert of the spirited music heard at Jewish weddings and celebrations in the Russia of Chagall’s youth. Art historian and author Charles A. Riley II, Ph.D. returns to the museum on Saturday, Oct. 13 with a talk about Chagall’s artwork for the performing arts, especially opera and dance. Children’s programs in connection with the Chagall exhibition include Friday morning readings of Eastern European folklore on Saturday, July 27, Thursday, Aug. 3 and Thursday, Aug. 10, followed by a family-friendly exhibition tour and supervised art activities. “Show Us Your Collections!” on Friday, Aug. 18 will encourage youngsters to share their prized possessions and create new art with a variety of materials. “Discover Chagall’s Childhood World” on Saturday, Oct. 20 features a real petting zoo to echo the animal characters seen in Chagall’s paintings of his native village of Vitebsk; children will be guided in creating pastel representations of their own neighborhoods.
Log onto nassaumuseum.org/events for details on these and other programs at the museum.