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Chagall in NYC – The People’s Art School

Having access to museums, galleries, and exhibits by the score can make it difficult to decide which exhibits to see.  With that being said, I never pass up an opportunity to view the work of an artist or movement that I enjoy, especially when the narrative tells a unique story. The Jewish Museum is currently hosting Chagall, Lissitsky, Malevich:  The Russian Avant – Garde Vitebsk, 1918-1922.  This exhibit celebrates the art of the Russian post-revolutionary years from 1918 – 1922.

Born in Russia in 1887, to French and Jewish parents, Marc Chagall grew up witnessing the disparity of education between Jewish and Russian children.  He himself was denied entrance into a Russian High School.  His mother intervened and paid the head master money in order to secure Chagall’s acceptance.

Most of us know Chagall the artist who explored artistic movements including modernist styles like Cubism, Symbolism, Fauvism and Surrealism.  However, you might not know of his philanthropic nature.

As an artist proficient in many mediums from book illustrations to stained glass, Chagall’s works possess a modern, minimalist floating element, his own unique playful blend of figurative and modernist styles.  We can see this modernist element in his murals at Lincoln Center, “The Sources of Music” and “The Triumph of Music”.  We see this again in his beautiful series of stained glass windows (commissioned by the Rockefeller family), installed at the Union Church of Pocantico Hills in Tarrytown, NY.   You will see this same playful blend of styles in his Self-Portrait with Easel, 1919.

This current exhibit provides a deeper dive into Chagall’s art work as well as The People’s Art School which he founded in 1918.  Chagall had been appointed the Fine Arts Commissioner in his native city of Vitebsk earlier in 1918.  His new position garnered him the power and prestige he needed to create his revolutionary art school.   This school was for the education of artists with limited financial means and little artistic training.  It was open and available to anyone who wished to attend.  It had no fees or age restrictions and was especially created to support artists of Jewish decent.

Chagall invited El Lissitzky and Kazimir Malevich, leaders in the Russian avant-garde, to teach alongside him at the school.  Malevich, an energized leader of the abstract movement, was effective in uniting the students while Lissitzky taught the students architecture, graphic design and print making.  The collaborative mentorship and teachings of these three artists incited such enthusiasm among the students, that the students created art at a frenzied pace.

This exhibit shares works of Chagall, Lissitzky and Malevich as well as their fellow teachers and the students of Vitebsk school.  The exhibit runs through January 6th, 2019.  Purchasing tickets in advance will assure your entrance.  Be sure to take the guided tour!

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