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, 2003. Marc Chagall will include approximately 80 paintings and 40 works on paper¨Dmany never before seen in the United States¨Dfrom all periods of the artist¡¯s career. Organized jointly by the R¨¦union des Mus¨¦es Nationaux, Paris and the Mus¨¦e National Message Biblique Marc Chagall, Nice, 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 L¨¦ger Museum in Biot, France, has organized the retrospective; overseeing the San Francisco presentation is Janet Bishop, SFMOMA curator of painting and sculpture. A fully illustrated catalogue will be published in conjunction with the exhibition.
The work of Marc Chagall (1887¨C1985) is distinguished by its surrealistic inventiveness, as well as by the artist¡¯s use of humor and fantasy that draws deeply on the resources of the unconscious. Strong and often bright colors infuse his canvases with a dreamlike, non-realistic simplicity, while the combination of fantasy, religion and nostalgia conveys a joyous quality. One of the key themes addressed in the exhibition will be how Chagall¡¯s conception of himself as a messenger from a better and more holy world drew him away from the modernist movements of his time. Over the course of his career, Chagall declined to join an avant-garde movement three times: In Paris in 1911 he refused to formally align himself with the Cubists; in Moscow in 1920 he refused to join the Suprematist group; and in Paris in 1924 he refused to participate in the Surrealist group. The artist¡¯s choice to distance himself from these classifications has often removed him from critical analysis and consideration; thus, this exhibition will provide substantial new scholarship on the artist and his work.
Chagall was born in Vitsyebsk, Russia, the eldest of nine children in a poor family of Hasidic Jews. He was educated in art in Saint Petersburg and, from 1910¨C14, in Paris. A childhood in Chagall¡¯s deeply religious household inspired the subject matter for his 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 Vitsyebsk and art director of the Theatre Juif (Jewish Theater) in Moscow. Chagall painted several murals in the theater lobby and executed the settings 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 four major periods of the painter¡¯s artistic activity¨Dthe Russian years (1910¨C23); the French years (1924¨C40); the American years (1941¨C47) and the Vence years (1948¨C83)¨Das well as objects ranging from his set decorations for the Theater Juif in Moscow to never-before-seen portraits of his family.
The Russian Years (1910¨C23)
The first segment of this section features Chagall¡¯s early works, in which he attempted to find a balance between his vernacular, Russian-Jewish culture and the culture of modernity he discovered in Paris in 1911¨C12. The second section addresses Chagall¡¯s renunciation of the abstract avant-garde and examines the d¨¦cor he created for the Jewish Theater in Moscow. Chagall¡¯s exploration of these two differing aesthetic cultures¨Dthat of the Russian Jews and that of the Parisian avant-garde¨Dresults in the development of the artist¡¯s distinctive and highly personal style. This section illustrates the genesis of Chagall¡¯s idea of the artist as a messenger, which continued to be a theme throughout his career.
The French Years (1924¨C40)
This section of the exhibition is composed chiefly of works on paper and gouaches that have rarely been exhibited and show Chagall trying to understand and assimilate the culture of France, his new home. Featured works from this period include Chagall¡¯s illustrations for the classical works of French literature, Les Fables de La Fontaine, and for the work of contemporary French poets. Also included are the artist¡¯s Holy Bible illustrations and a series of images drawn from the world of the circus. This section explores how Chagall balanced his open-mindedness to a new culture with the strong ties he felt to his Russian Jewish origins.
The American Years (1941¨C47)
Chagall arrived in New York just as the Germans invaded Russia during World War II. This section explores how Chagall¡¯s work developed a refined artistic tone as he returned to the idea of the ¡°artist as messenger¡± he had begun to work with during the 1920s at the Theatre Juif.
The Vence Years (1948¨C83)
In 1948, Chagall moved to St. Paul de Vence in the south of France, where he spent the remainder of his life. Featured works from this period include his popular Mediterranean landscapes and his works dealing with themes and stories from the Bible. In addition, this section includes a group of works on paper dealing with Biblical subjects that have never been exhibited as a whole.
The fully illustrated exhibition catalogue features approximately 220 pages and color plates of all of the works in the exhibition. The essay is by curator Jean-Michel Foray. The catalogue will be available at the MuseumStore and at www.sfmoma.org.