Chagall: Colour and Music at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Set designs and costumes, puppets and illustrated fables, stained-glass windows and tapestry – these are the various materials created by Belorussian-French artist, Marc Chagall (1887-1985), exhibited at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts: Chagall: Colour and Music. Displaying over 340 works, the extensive exhibition was curated by an impressive roster of international curators, such as Bruno Gaudichon (Chief Curator of La Piscine) and Stephanie Baron (Senior Curator of Modern Art, LACMA). What distinguishes this exhibition is, not only the display of his rarely publicly seen theatre and ballet costumes, the curators exercised a new perspective on Chagall’s artistic practice; his influence of music and undertones of his Hasidic Jewish background, in relation to his artistic practice.

Through this perspective, Chagall: Colour and Music follows a chronological account of the artist’s career with pocketed themes found in each gallery room, based either on his stylistic influences (i.e. fauvism, expressionism and cubism), his artist production in Paris, New York and Moscow, or the varieties of materials he used. For instance, there are a few rooms dedicated to his designs for the theatre, ballet and opera, such as his designs for Daphnis and Chloé. Sketches of both the set and costumes hang on the walls, surrounding the center of the room, which holds his whimsical costumes worn by mannequins; we are able to view Chagall’s artistic process from his brain-storming to the final creation. Classical also fills the room from the songs performed within these productions. Thus, not only does the artist design for a musical-dance production, and not only do the curators include the presence of music, but through the expressivity of his hand through his sketches; a sense of movement is apparent through the liveliness of the colors, the strokes of his sketches, as well as the figures who seem move with the background.

Many of his seminal paintings hang on the walls, such as Self-Portrait with Seven Fingers (1912-1913), Green Violinist (1923 – 1924), and The Blue Circus (1950-1952). Chagall’s cubist influences are noticeable through his figuration, and signifiers through his use of symbolism are perceptible as he makes reference to Yiddish idioms, and figures in Yiddish culture such as the klezmer (a fiddler or violinist).

The curators have contextually explained the life and influences of Chagall in-depth, providing the viewer with a better understanding of his artistic practice. The exhibition undoubtedly divulges the multitude of talents from Chagall’s artistic hand through his variety of different materials and mediums. The museum space itself encompasses the viewer through the music of Chagall’s childhood, documentary videos of the artist, as well as colorful painted walls, which simultaneously enhance his artworks, as well as references the rich colors used in Chagall’s palette. Chagall: Music and Color is definitely a must-see for any lover.

Enriching events surround the exhibition, such as lectures and conferences, documentary-film screenings, as well as concerts based on this music of Chagall’s life.


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