Flatiron Hot! Critic: Marc Chagall & Elaine Reichek – A Free Saturday at the Jewish Museum
By Tod Shapiro and the Flatiron Hot! Editorial Staff
Have some free time on a crisp fall weekend afternoon? Head out from the Flatiron District and get on the subway at 23rd Street and Lexington Avenue and take the 4,5, or 6 train to the 96th Street stop and explore the NYC Jewish Museum (at 5th Avenue and 92nd Street, to be precise.) Saturdays are free admission – and what a treat it is! The Jewish Museum is featuring two remarkable exhibits as part of its mission to showcase Jewish heritage and art.
Head first to see is a stunning display, complete with a detailed narrative timeline, of master artist Marc Chagall’s life and paintings – Chagall: Love, War and Exile – detailing much of his life’s work and his family’s personal odyssey in the tumultuous years covering his birth in a small Russian village, his development as a modern master artist both there and later in Paris, and then his flight from Nazi persecution and trauma during World War II. Chagall is one of our modern masters and his Jewish roots and personal experience as an artist in the turbulent times of the 20th century is the story of one family’s tale of survival. Chagall and his family fled Paris, and then unoccupied France, one step ahead of the Nazis and their Vichy collaborators, ending up as war-time refugees and exiles in New York. Chagall joined a notable company of other great exiled artists, making the best of their time in New York by staging exhibits of their cutting-edge modern paintings and masterpieces. They succeeded in observing and challenging, by their example, the concerted efforts of the Nazis to destroy and disparage their craft as so-called “degenerate” art.
The Chagall exhibition, which is composed of several galleries of beautiful paintings and drawings, carefully assembled from museums and collections around the world, reflect his artistic commentary on all the great events of his time. Of note is his incredible ability to channel the drama and horror of the events he lived through by his use of color and whimsical composition. It is all here – Chagall’s uniquely compelling use of bright color and stylized imagery, his remarkable capacity to tell a story in panoramic display on canvas – the cows, the crucifixes, the winged and whimsical angels taking flight, the Jewish images of rabbis and local landscapes and landmarks he knew so well from his Russian home. The paintings are carefully arranged to match up with the detailed time line one sees as one enters the exhibit.
Look for the dramatic picture of events in Russia during the revolution – complete with Lenin standing on his hands as he mesmerizes the masses (with Chagall and his wife in the crowd), alongside striking landscapes and images that reflect the desolation and destruction of the Holocaust and battles taking place in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s.
His later work records his recollections of his temporary homes in America, in New York City and upstate New York, where he put his life back together after the untimely death of his wife and the start of his new family. The exhibit, and the well-done captions explaining the works on display, track Chagall’s recovery of his happiness and the transition of his mood from mourning to new life, as his new wife and son make an appearance in his later works. Certainly, this is one exhibit that you will not want to miss.
When you’re done with Chagall, go upstairs to the third floor and take a look at the Elaine Reichek exhibit, “Reichek: A Post Colonial Kinderhood Revisited.” The noted artist, who in her works has explored the cultural background and history of the Native Americans, the Irish, and other national, ethnic, and cultural groups perceived as being under siege by their host countries, has looked back to track her own Jewish heritage and experience of assimilation in America.
Growing up in a middle-class Jewish home in Brooklyn as a second-generation American herself, Reichek has assembled an exhibit that tracks the assimilated Jewish experience in a heterogeneous American environment to good effect. She has assembled a child’s bedroom from that era, complete with furniture, pictures, newspaper clippings, and her trademark textile embroideries. The faint echo of New-England Protestant overtones, evident in the furnishings and objects of art placed throughout the exhibit, form a curious counterpoint to the ever-present sense of the strong residual pull of the unforgettable Jewish cultural heritage. Look carefully for the humorous and touching comments on the embroideries on the ever-difficult transition from the traditional Jewish to the modern American sensibility.