Exhibition at the MMFA melds the visual with the auditory
Music had a deep influence on Marc Chagall. The Russian-French artist was an early modernist in the late 19th to early 20th century. He was versatile both in style and medium, creating paintings, sculptures and even stained glass.
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) takes an overarching look at Chagall’s illustrious career in Chagall: Colour and Music. Featuring 340 works of art, the MMFA has combined interactive elements with classic exhibition spaces to immerse visitors in Chagall’s art.
According to the museum, the exhibition is the largest ever devoted to Chagall in Canada. And considering how prolific the artist was, it requires a lot of time to go through. The exhibition space is massive. In order to truly understand the different influences in the artist’s life, it’s worth taking the time to read the museum descriptions to really appreciate the artwork on display.
There is quite a variety of artwork to see. In his lifetime, Chagall produced sculptures, paintings, drawings, and costumes for ballets and operas. He even dabbled in stained glass and tapestry making. It seems as if no medium was out of his reach.
No matter which piece you look at, regardless of when in Chagall’s career it was produced, the work is always unmistakably Chagall. The essence of the artist’s style—be it in the integration of geographic shapes, the vivid colours or the appearance of movement—is always present to some degree. Even going from a flat canvas to a three-dimensional sculpture, his works still bear his signature curves and geometric patterns. Through his versatility there is also familiarity, and it is interesting to chart the changes Chagall went through over the span of his career.
As you go through the exhibition, you learn that Chagall had several muses he drew upon for inspiration. Of his muses, music and colour were consistent. Music had a powerful effect on Chagall, and moved him deeply. Another one of his other influences was religion. His Yiddish and Jewish roots were very important to him, and had a profound impact on his creations, evident in his depictions of traditional Yiddish culture.
Music was such an integral part of Chagall’s artwork that the MMFA took it into account when putting together the exhibition. There is music playing in most of the rooms, the kind Chagall might have been listening to while he painted. Most of the tracks are traditional Yiddish and Jewish scores, or classical music. The audio adds depth to the pieces. Instead of simply viewing the end results, we are privy to a small part of the artistic process.
In his works, Chagall, like Picasso, explored canvas space, texture and colour. Though Chagall’s style was whimsical and often childlike, his work also communicated deep messages of longing, or fear during the World War II when he sensed Jews were beginning to be hunted and persecuted.
Chagall: Colour and Music is on display at the MMFA until June 11. Tickets are $15 for visitors under the age of 30, and $23 for visitors aged 31 and over. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.