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A look inside Marc Chagall’s world at Springfield Museums

  • “The Man with the Mandolin,” lithograph by Pablo Picasso, undated. Image courtesy of Springfield Museums

  • “The Peddlar (The Old Jew),” 1922 etching by Marc Chagall. Image courtesy of Springfield Museums

  • “Two Female Nudes,” 1921 lithograph by Alexander Archipenko. Image courtesy of Springfield Museums

  • “Abstraction, le Comptoir,” etching by Louis Marcoussis. Image courtesy of Springfield Museums

  • At left, “The Artist and the Model,” undated lithograph by Pablo Picasso.

  • “Chagall for Children” features interactive stations based on several works by the artist, including “The Poultry Yard” here. Image courtesy of Springfield Museums



Staff Writer 
Thursday, July 27, 2017

Put several dozen artists in a building called “The Beehive,” and what do you get? A space brimming and buzzing with new ideas and fresh perspectives on art, as a new exhibit at the Springfield Museums illustrates.

“Marc Chagall and Friends,” a display of prints drawn from the collection of the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, shines a light on a group of artists who, living in close quarters in Paris in the early 20th century, played a big part in developing the influential avant-garde styles, such as modernism, of that era.

The exhibit, which runs through Jan. 28, 2018 at the D’Amour Museum, looks in particular at the work of Chagall — one of the most diverse artists of the 20th century — and some of his friends and colleagues, such as Alexander Archipenko and Amedeo Modigliani, who all lived in the same studio apartment complex between 1911 and 1914. 

That complex — “The Beehive,” or La Ruche in French — was a 16-sided building in Paris’ Montparnasse district that had 50 inexpensive studio apartments specifically designed for artists. The building, which still stands today, had originally been opened for a world’s fair held in Paris in 1900; it was then dismantled and reconstructed by French sculptor Alfred Boucher.

“If you were an artist, this was just a great place to be,” said Heather Haskell, vice president and director of Art Museums for the Springfield complex. “You could exchange ideas, get feedback on what you were doing, or just spend time talking about art.”

The show includes etchings, lithographs, woodcuts and other prints by artists who worked in that region of Paris at the time, like Pablo Picasso, whose experiments in Cubism represented one of the era’s most dramatic artistic movements. 

“Marc Chagall and Friends” is just one part of the D’Amour Museum’s current focus on the artist. “Chagall for Children” is an interactive exhibit that features reproductions of selected paintings, prints and stained- glass window designs by the artist that can be manipulated in various ways.

For instance, a recreation of Chagall’s “American Windows,” a famous stained window he created in 1977 for the Art Institute of Chicago, consists of numerous small plastic panels that children can rearrange in different patterns; they can also change the backing lighting to give the panels a different look.

That exhibit, which runs through Sept. 17, “is about introducing children and families to a wonderfully creative artist in a real hands-on way,” said Haskell. “We think the two shows really complement each other.”

 

From Russia to France 

 “Chagall and Friends” builds its narrative around Chagall, a Russian-born artist who not only worked in a wide array of mediums — painting, printmaking, book illustrations, stained glass, stage sets and others — but was considered perhaps the 20th century’s most prominent Jewish artist. Much of his art features themes and styles drawn from Eastern-European Jewish folk culture.

When he arrived in France in 1910, at age 23, to further his art education, Chagall did not speak a word of French. But as exhibit notes point out, he found plenty of other artists, including from Russia and Ukraine, who were experimenting with different ideas that inspired some of his own.

One of his earliest prints was “The Peddlar” (also known as “The Old Jew”), an etching that, with partial lines, depicts a bearded older man wearing a fiddler cap, a large cloth bag slung over his shoulder.

“It’s a very straightforward [print], but there’s a lot going on,” said Haskell. “You get the sense of motion, and the blocks of light and dark create a very distinctive mood.”

One of Chagall’s colleagues in The Beehive was Alexander Archipenko, a Ukranian-born sculptor and graphic designer who later, like Chagall, lived in America. The D’Amour Museum show includes a number of his prints, including “Two Female Nudes,” a lithograph done along distinctly modernist lines, with the two figures given very muscular dimensions.

“Archipenko was fascinated by the juxtaposition of negative and positive space,” exhibit notes outline. You can see that contrast most notably in one of the female figures: where her face would be is a featureless dark oval, making the woman appear strangely hooded.

The show also includes a charcoal print, “Two Girls,” by Jules Pascin, a Bulgarian-born painter who moved to Paris in 1905 and became known as the “Prince of Montparnasse,” the guy who “organized all the parties” in The Beehive, Haskell said.

Picasso, who lived not far from The Beehive in another part of Montparnasse, was also finding his way in the Paris art world — on his way to becoming arguably the 20th century’s most famous artist. The Springfield exhibit includes several of his prints, and though they’re undated, they show the range of styles he was known for.

The lithograph “The Artist and the Model,” for example, features a sort of mild Cubism, showing a nude female figure on a couch, a painting of her on an easel, and a ghostly male figure — possibly meant to be Picasso himself — standing by the edge of the couch. A bull’s head and partial torso at the right suggests the print might be from the 1930s, when Picasso often used such images in his work.

The lithograph “The Man with the Mandolin,” by contrast, is full-bore Cubism, with the image so fractured and recast that one has to look hard to find either a mandolin or the man playing it.

 

Kid-friendly art   

“Chagall for Children,” an exhibit that comes from the Kohl Children’s Museum in Chicago, includes 14 reproductions of Chagall works, each set up in a separate station with a second version of the work that provides a hands-on activity for visitors. 

With Chagall’s 1957 oil painting “The Concert,” for instance, you can press a button to hear the sounds of various instruments represented in the painting, the idea being to blend sounds the way Chagall blended colors. And with “The Green Violinst,” from 1923, visitors can re-create the painting using magnetized puzzle pieces.

At the station for “The Poultry Yard,” a 1923 print filled with many types of critters, Lena Mueller, 4, of Agawam, was creating her variation of the piece on a recent day, placing brightly colored, soft animal figures on a recreation of the print — this one studded with velcro patches.

“It’s one way to get kids interested in art,” said Lena’s mother, Emily Mueller. “And [Chagall] is a good choice for this show because his work is so colorful and kid-friendly. We’ll see where my daughter goes from here.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

For more information on the the two Marc Chagall exhibits at the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, visit springfieldmuseums.org.