Published: July 15, 2003
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) will be the sole venue outside Paris for a major retrospective of the work of painter Marc Chagall from July 26 through November 4. “Marc Chagall” will include approximately 65 paintings and 88 works on paper — including many never before seen in the United States — from all periods of the artist’s seven-decade career.
Organized jointly by the Réunion des Musées Nationaux, Paris, in conjunction with the Musée National Message Biblique Marc Chagall, Nice, and SFMOMA, the exhibition is the first comprehensive look at this artist since 1985 and offers a unique opportunity to reevaluate a body of work that is universally renowned but often underestimated.
Jean-Michel Foray, director of the Chagall Museum in Nice and the Fernand Léger Museum in Biot, France, has organized the retrospective; overseeing the San Francisco presentation is Janet Bishop, SFMOMA curator of painting and sculpture.
Chagall’s work is distinguished by surrealistic inventiveness, as well as by a use of humor and fantasy that draws deeply on the resources of the unconscious. Strong and often brilliant colors infuse his canvases with a dreamlike, nonrealistic simplicity, while the combination of imagination, religion and nostalgia conveys a joyous quality.
One of the key themes addressed in the exhibition will be how Chagall’s conception of the artist as a messenger from a better and more spiritual world drew him away from the modernist movements of his time. Over the course of his lengthy and prolific career, Chagall distanced himself from prominent avant-garde art movements: in Paris in 1911 he refused to formally align himself with the Cubists; in Moscow in 1920 he broke with the Suprematist group; and in Paris in 1924 he refused to join the Surrealist group. Yet Chagall selectively appropriated aspects of the modernist program — Cubism’s fracturing of space, Surrealism’s privileging of the dream world, Modernism’s liberation of color from the constraints of description — and used them to structure themes drawn from his roots in Jewish and Russian vernacular culture and his emotional and spiritual life.
Marc Chagall (1887-1985) was born in Vitebsk, Russia, the eldest of nine children in a poor family of Hasidic Jews. He was educated in art in St Petersburg and, from 1911 to 1914, in Paris. His childhood in a deeply religious household inspired the subject matter for Chagall’s many paintings depicting Jewish life, folklore and Bible stories. He returned to Russia in 1915 and after the Russian Revolution was director of the Art Academy in Vitebsk and designed décor for the State Jewish Chamber Theater in Moscow. Chagall painted several murals for the theater and executed the sets for numerous productions, many of which are featured in this exhibition.
In 1923 he moved to France, where he spent the rest of his life, except for a period of residence in the United States from 1941 to 1948. He died in St Paul de Vence, France, on March 28, 1985.
“Marc Chagall” includes work from all major periods of the painter’s artistic activity — the Russian years (1910-23), which included his stay in Paris from 1911 to 1941; the Paris years (1924-40); the American years (1941-47); and the Vence years (1948-85).
An illustrated exhibition catalog features 240 pages and approximately 150 color plates. The volume includes an introduction by curator Jean-Michel Foray and a heavily illustrated chronology of the artist’s life by Chagall’s granddaughter Meret Meyer Graber and Jakov Bruk. Hardcover and soft-cover editions are available at www.sfmoma.org.
An opening day lecture, “Chagall: An Intimate View,” will be presented by Bella Meyer, art historian, on Saturday, July 26, at 2 pm in the Phyllis Wattis Theater. Meyer, Chagall’s granddaughter, lectures worldwide on the work of her grandfather. In this talk she shares memories of Chagall and reflects on the impact of his art and personality.
Additional program information is available at www.sfmoma.org.
Admission to the exhibition “Marc Chagall” will require a special ticket. Museum hours will be expanded during the run of the exhibition.
To purchase tickets visit www.ticket web.com or call 866-468-3399.
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