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Mary Anne Evans

Last chance - Chagall Exhibition at Roubaix, Lille

By December 15, 2012

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I have to make a confession - I don't like the paintings of Marc Chagall and I must be one of the few people in the world to feel like this. I quite like some of the many stained glass windows that he has done in churches in France, and in Jerusalem, but on the whole whenever I see an exhibition or a room in a gallery devoted to him, I walk on.

However I found the costumes that he designed for the Ballets Russes an absolute knockout. They are currently in a major show on Chagall at the fabulous La Piscine Museum in Roubaix, a suburb of Lille, north France. Suddenly all those swirling curves and figures that Chagall produced made sense. The costumes are displayed on static mannequins, but it didn't take much imagination to imagine them dancing across the stage, skirts twirling, odd additions like a cello costume moving in time to the music. Pure magic.

If you possibly can, get to Lille before this ends. It's part of Fantastic Lille, which has taken over all the major galleries and lasts until January 13th 2013. The city puts on an international exhibition of this size and importance every three to four years. And there are also exhibits well worth seeing at the Tri Postal, the Contemporary Art Museum, the Musee de l'Hosp;ice, and the Musee des Beaux-Arts.

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December 31, 2012 at 7:29 am
(1) LDW says:

Quite a lot of people find Chagall difficult. His work is symbolic and requires an instinctive response. To those of us who have been taught to consider art from an intellectual standpoint this makes him difficult to read: you really cannot think about Chagall’s work or discuss it with the usual vocabulary. The only valid responses are therefore ‘I relate to that’ or ‘I don’t relate to that’.

A particular area of difficulty is the way he treats composition: he throws out all the accepted rules. It looks like he has chucked a whole bunch of stuff into the same canvas, without much thought about placement.

Why is there a goat flying through the air? Why upside down? Why do Jesus, Jacob, Abraham and a rabbi, Vitebsk and the south of France all appear in the same picture?

None of it makes sense. Until you learn to read him. Until you realise that his object is to make all things one: it’s about unity. ‘There’s no Jewish vs Christian, no Russian vs French, no now vs then. It’s all one under one God’ he seems to say.

It helps too when you look at the genesis of a work through various drafts and sketches. It turns out that that goat that looks as if it was just thrown there, upside down, was in his very first thoughts, and has persisted through to the finished painting. He meant it to be there. Why?

He wants you to respond viscerally, unintellectually, instinctively. So he paints the same way – viscerally, unintellectually, instinctively. He tries not to analyse, not to intellectualise, not to THINK about the picture. This is his version of automatism.

The other thing is that he wants you to bathe in the colour, and just soak it up. Let the colour work on you – don’t try to understand, just be in it.

It’s worth persevering with him. Not liking his work generally means not understanding it, and/or not responding to it viscerally. Have you seen his stained glass at Tudeley? I think you’d like it.

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