Expansive show of Chagall works to tour 2 citiesOne of the first comprehensive retrospectives of Marc Chagall in years, the coming exhibit “Magician of Color” was something of a breakthrough in local exhibiting conventions.
Organizers have insured the works in the exhibition for more than $1 billion, with $9 million of coverage just for “Bouquet Over City,” owned by the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, and $8.5 million for “Dream,” owned by the Paris Metropolitan Museum.
The scale of the show is another thing.
“Magician of Color,” opening Thursday at the Seoul Museum of Art, is unquestionably one of the largest exhibits of the artist’s works ever held in Korea, spanning more than 70 years.
Chagall’s work is generally divided into four periods: his early years in Russia, life in Paris before the Second World War, his midlife after moving to the United States and his years after settling in France in 1948.
Here in Seoul, however, they are divided thematically into seven sections, according to subjects that appear frequently in Chagall’s work: Lovers, Imagination, Paris, Circus and Jewish Theater, the Bible, Homer’s “Odyssey” and the Mediterranean World.
A series of works depict the romantic landscape of Paris, the city he described as his second home. “Bible,” a collection of Chagall’s religious paintings, mostly donated by the Musee National Message Biblique for the Seoul exhibit, sheds light on the artist as a spiritual man who saw Jesus as a sacrificed Jew and a symbol of humanity’s suffering.
Religious subjects were at the center of the artist’s interests. Chagall often said publicly, “If I were not a Jew, I wouldn’t have been an artist or I would be a different artist altogether.”
“Circus” and “Lovers” carry recognizable trademarks of his art, the fusion of dreamlike fantasy and nostalgia.
The exhibit also includes some of Chagall’s works that have never been shown in Korea, like “Jewish Theater” (1920), a series of panels depicting allegorical figures that Chagall produced for the Moscow Jewish Theater. These paintings were stored away for more than 50 years; they were recently restored and presented in major exhibits across Europe.
Today, Chagall’s works are in an odd position in Western art history. While his paintings attract an enthusiastic following from the public, the sources of Chagall’s art ― the bright colors and gay subjects like flowers, lovers and folk landscapes ― were often derided as lacking artistic maturity. His religious themes were criticized for being too “mystical” and “illustrative,” while others branded Chagall a calendar artist.
The critiques don’t seem to have penetrated too far in mainstream Korean culture, as several jaebeol have provided financial support for the Seoul exhibit. And to most Koreans, this French painter is, at least for now, still the magician of color.
by Park Soo-mee
“Magician of Color” runs through Oct. 15 at the Seoul Museum of Art, then travels to Busan on Nov. 13. Admission is 10,000 won ($8.70). For details, call (02) 736-2751.