By Deb Silverthorn
The art of Marc Chagall is on display at the Dallas Museum of Art, the only U.S. venue for the “Chagall: Beyond Color” exhibition. The show, which runs through May 26, offers more than 140 paintings, costumes, sketches, ceramics and sculptures, and will be the subject of at least two Jewish-themed programs.
“This exhibit is spectacular, a mix of watercolor and sculpture and costumes; it’s just so impressive,” said Olivier Meslay, the DMA’s associate director of curatorial affairs and the Barbara Thomas Lemmon curator of European art. “Chagall transformed his pieces, working almost until his passing at almost 98 years old. He was completely creative to the end of his life.”
Chagall, who was born in Vitebsk, Belarus, and flourished in France, also lived in New York and created theater designs in Mexico. With famed works in the Knesset and at Hadassah Hospital in Israel, he also painted the ceiling of the Opera in Paris.
Art critic Robert Hughes once referred to Chagall as “the quintessential Jewish artist of the 20th century.” He is well-known for his expressive use of color and his works in many media. The DMA exhibit includes pieces that retrace the chronology of Chagall’s time in Mexico and the American Southwest, including the influences on his work from the Mexican, Hopi and Zuni cultures.
The exhibit’s showpiece is a collection of costumes designed by Chagall for the production of the ballet “Aleko.” This is the first viewing of the costumes since the ballet’s run in Mexico City and New York.
“This is a very happy exhibit; Chagall’s work is about love and joy and he expresses that beautifully,” Meslay said. “It’s not often to see a collection that is so lively, and I believe this is a wonderful experience for all ages. These are pieces that will be new to most of our guests, and I’m excited to introduce a new side of the artist.”
Among the special programs taking place in conjunction with the exhibit is “Food & Art: Chagall Beyond Color,” a dinner and conversation led by Meslay and Tina Wasserman, the Dallas-based Jewish culinary historian and cookbook author. It is scheduled for 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, April 23 at Central Market’s Lovers Lane location.
“I’ve been to the exhibit and it is stunning, so different from anything of Chagall’s work that I’ve seen before,” said Wasserman who recalls visiting a Chagall exhibit in New York with her grandfather Jacob Rice. She remembers Rice writing the Hebrew down so as he’d be able to better replicate Chagall’s windows as he painted his own version. “I have those paintings in my home, and so this exhibit brings me great joy and invokes great memories on so many levels. It’s really everything I stand for.”
Wasserman’s menu for the evening includes a grilled salmon with a five-citrus peppercorn sauce, a nod to the fact that Chagall incorporates fish into his work. His father worked for a herring merchant and the connection of the Jews to the citrus trade in Europe.
The menu also features a beet humus, a tribute to Chagall’s Russian roots; a crustless goat cheese quiche, an homage to Chagall’s time in the south of France and his often painted depiction of goats; and a Mexican chocolate dish, noting the impact Jews had on the chocolate trade and the experiences Chagall shared in Mexico.
“It’s not always so easy to understand Chagall’s relationship to his Judaism,” Meslay said. “He was not so observant, but he was profoundly Jewish in his heart and his connection to his roots was deep. It was a great part of his identity and he linked that part of his culture to many of his pieces.”
The exhibit is so successful that more than 350 people have already sold out a “Chagall: Art & Religion” lecture with Meslay and Temple Emanu-El’s Rabbi David Stern Thursday, April 25.
“I am very excited to be participating in the Chagall program,” Stern said. “I loved the exhibit — not only for its provocative beauty and vibrant color, but because it serves as a fascinating lens for considering the Diaspora Jewish experience in the 20th century.
“Throughout, his work reflects a tension and a dance between old country and new world, between nostalgic forms and fractured expectations,” Stern added. “Chagall loved the Bible, and mingled biblical images with barnyard animals, expressing his Jewish identity and orientation at every turn as part of a universal whorl of suffering, creation and love.”
“Chagall: Beyond Color” requires a special exhibition ticket that costs $16 for adults, with discounts for students, military personnel and seniors. DMA partners and children ages 11 and younger are free. To register for Wasserman’s class at Central Market, visit www.cookingschoolsofamerica.com. For tickets or other information about the Chagall Beyond Color exhibit and special programs, visit DMA.org/tickets or call 214-922-1818.