web analytics
January 27, 2015 / 7 Shevat, 5775
 
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post


Home » Sections » Arts »

Chagall: Love, War and Exile


The Wedding Candles (1945); oil on canvas by Marc Chagall.
Kunsthaus Zurich. © 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

The Wedding Candles (1945); oil on canvas by Marc Chagall. Kunsthaus Zurich. © 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Jewish Museum
1109 Fifth Avenue & 92 Street, New York
Until February 2, 2014

Groundbreaking and courageous. The current exhibition at the Jewish Museum has tackled what is easily the most vexing subject in the career of the most famous of Jewish artists: Marc Chagall (1887–1985) – namely, his persistent, indeed obsessive, use of the crucifixion as a symbol of Jewish suffering and persecution. The exhibition: “Chagall: Love, War and Exile,” under the expert direction of Senior Curator Emerita Susan Tumarkin Goodman, has traced Chagall’s lifelong fascination with the emblem of Christianity, especially in his work created during the Holocaust.

The voice of the artist rings loud and clear as he links his controversial images to specific events: Berlin’s anti-Semitic riots (1930), Hitler’s takeover (1933), the deportation of Polish Jews (October, 1938), Kristallnacht (November 1938), massacre of Vitebsk’s Jews (1941), among many other Holocaust horrors. Seen here, his work using the crucifixion dates from the early masterpiece, Calvary (1912 – Museum of Modern Art), to late in his career, In Front of the Picture (1971 – Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul de Vence, France). Questions immediately arise: why did Chagall use this potentially painful symbol of the Jews’ persecutors to symbolize Jewish suffering itself? And more broadly, how successfully can appropriation of non-Jewish symbols be used to address specifically Jewish issues?

Untitled (Old Man with Beard) c 1931; Gouache & watercolor on paper by Marc Chagall. Courtesy The Jewish Museum, New York, © 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Untitled (Old Man with Beard) c 1931; Gouache & watercolor on paper by Marc Chagall.
Courtesy The Jewish Museum, New York, © 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

The fact that the Jewish Museum’s curator Susan Tumarkin Goodman presents these issues as the inescapable core of her exhibition demonstrates the courage to challenge her audience with deeply discomforting images and concepts. As far as I am aware this aspect of his work has never been this extensively examined in a major exhibition (see my review in this publication, “Chagall and the Cross,” May 20, 2011).

Marc Chagall, educated in Vitebsk’s traditional cheder and well familiar with his family’s Lubavitch beliefs, quickly absorbed the surrounding Russian secular culture, first studying art in St. Petersburg and then blossoming in Paris from 1911 as an archetypal but totally unique Modernist artist.

What emerged from this volatile cultural mix was an artist who could easily pursue multiple agendas simultaneously. Russian Jewish shtetl life, Eastern European Christian culture as well as transgressive modernist artistic freedom all came to be his artistic birthright. Significantly, this is exactly what gave him license to appropriate the Christian crucifixion to serve Jewish expression in over one hundred paintings and drawings over his lifetime.

Surely this is a highly idiosyncratic and ahistorical approach to an image found in every church and Christian dwelling.

This wanton use of a public symbol for private meanings is frequently a creative disaster, creating a confusion of meanings for a bewildered audience. And while Chagall is not totally immune from these pitfalls, a review of his repeated use of the crucifixion actually yields a more coherent program. By imbuing the image of the crucified with unmistakably Jewish characteristics such as a tallis, tefillin, beard and “Jewish features,” building upon the core fact that the Christian savior was in fact a Jew, inevitably surrounded by menorahs, rabbis clutching Torahs and the burning shtetl, he goes a long way towards transforming the Christian icon into a Jewish theme.

As the exhibition demonstrates, Chagall has multiple uses for the crucifixion: a personal reflection of himself as the suffering artist, the universal redeemer for Jew and Christian alike, the ultimate symbol of the suffering of the Jewish people under Nazi tyranny, as well as an expression of transgressive modernist freedom. In a very significant manner Marc Chagall is demanding that, if the Modernist revolution indeed freed creativity from the constraints of religious tyranny, academic conformity and soulless art, then a simple Jew from Vitebsk can freely appropriate the consummate Christian symbol for his Jewish ends.

The exhibition unfolds in three clearly defined sections: 1) Chagall’s social, artistic and political roots in the 1920’s and early 1930’s; 2) Chagall’s war years expressed with the crucifixion and 3) Chagall’s personal tragedy and recovery in exile. In the first section we see his early concern with Jewish life, each group of paintings wonderfully grouped under selective wall texts quoting his poetry that runs throughout the exhibition. Old Man with Beard (1931) competes with Interior of a Synagogue in Safed (1931) and Study for the Revolution (1937) to show the scope of his interests.

About the Author: Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at rmcbee@nyc.rr.com


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

2 Responses to “Chagall: Love, War and Exile”

  1. Gil Gilman says:

    Most excellent article.

  2. Dita Gould says:

    Thank you for explaining the reason Chagall used the symbolism of the Cross.
    Now it makes sense.

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Soldiers guard terrorists while checking his car, where they found hidden weapons.
IDF Catches Terrorist with Rifle and Pistol in His Car
Latest Sections Stories
Resnick-012315-Artist

Nouril concluded he had no choice: He had to become more observant.

Respler-012315

I find his mother to be a difficult person and my nature is to stay away from people like that.

Here are some recipes to make your Chag La’Illanot a festive one.

Baim-012315

Does standing under the chuppah signal the end of our dream of romance and beautiful sunsets?

We aren’t at a platform; we are underground, just sitting there.

Dr. Lowy believed passionately in higher education for both men and women and would stop at nothing to assist young students in achieving their educational goals.

It’s almost pointless to try to summarize all of the fascinating information that Holzer’s research unearthed.

The special charm of these letters is their immediacy and authenticity of emotion and description.

Why is there such a steep learning curve for teachers? And what can we, as educators and community activists, do better in the educational system and keep first-year teachers in the job?

Teachers, as well as administrators, must be actively involved in the daily prayers that transpire at a school and must set the bar as dugmaot ishiot, role models, on how one must daven.

Often both girls and boys compare their date to their parents.

We love the food, the hotels, and even the wildlife. We love the Israelis.

Few traces remain of the glory days of Jewish life in the kingdoms of Sicily and Naples, but the demise wasn’t due to the eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius. Rather it was a manmade volcano called the Edict of Expulsion from Spain – and not even an invitation to return in Shevat of 1740 could […]

More Articles from Richard McBee
Jerusalem to Jericho Road: photograph by Chanan Getraide
“Chanan Getraide Photographs”: 2004 exhibition at Hebrew Union College Museum

“We are living in a Golden Age of Jewish Art, but don’t know it.”

McBee-062014-Outside

He refuses to flinch from our painful history, perhaps finding a kind of solace in the consistency of irrational enmity directed against us.

“Vidduy: The Musical” breaks through the formidable barrier of repetitive confession to allow us to begin to understand what is at the heart of this fundamental religious act.

A fascinating glimpse into the rich complexity of medieval Jewish life and its contemporary relevance had intriguingly emerged.

Silverstein’s work has long concerned itself with the intersection between the personal and Jewish Biblical narrative, significantly explored in this column in “Brighton Beach Bible” (July 27, 2009).

Not surprisingly the guardians of synagogue tradition is male dominated in both Moses Abraham, Cantor and Mohel and Synagogue Lamp Lighters.

Neither helpless victims nor able to escape the killer’s clutches, the leaders had to make impossible choices on a daily basis in a never-ending dance with the devil.

Bradford has opted to fully exploit the diverse possibilities of the physical surface by concentrating on the three-dimensional application of paint (impasto) and other material.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/arts/chagall-love-war-and-exile/2013/11/08/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: