I’ve spent more than 45 years learning about art and artists—and I remain in awe of Marc Chagall.
The unlikely artist was one of nine children born into an extremely poor, highly religious Jewish family. Chagall grew up in a shtetl (a small, ghetto-like village) in Vitebsk, Belarus, then part of the Russian Empire. He married his muse Bella Rosenfeld in 1909; he moved to Paris in 1910.
Chagall’s personal style and creativity flourished after moving to a Parisian art colony, where he received exposure to the early 20th century avant garde creative-art movements. This highly prolific artist’s successes extend well beyond traditional media, like painting, drawing and printmaking: He also championed frequently overlooked art forms, including stained glass, fiber arts and mosaics.
Throughout his life, Chagall created art that frequently contained a narrative reflecting his youth in Vitebsk. While some might think—incorrectly—that much of his art was too narrowly focused, Chagall created works that contain a universality transcending geographic borders, art movements and historical events. His work remains coveted by museums and collectors worldwide.
The fantastic exhibit Chagall for Children, a traveling show that is at the Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert in Rancho Mirage through April 27, does far more than present opportunities to view original and reproductions of works by this master. Unlike traditional museum exhibits, Chagall for Children includes 14 “play” stations. Each station is paired with a specific Chagall creation and engages visitors to use their senses in various ways. Additionally, guests can explore their own creative style: At each station, visitors are tasked to imitate, interpret, rethink, deconstruct and/or reconstruct this icon’s creative process. In a sense, visitors are encouraged to be Marc Chagall.
Billed as an exhibit for children between ages 2 and 12, this show will actually delight visitors of all ages. While I was there, I spied a 70-plus-year-old woman, walking with a cane and having trouble while trying to sit on a small child’s chair.
Once seated, she looked intently at “Paris Though the Window.” After listening to the station’s commentary with the earphones, she gleefully announced, “I have always tried to figure out Chagall’s approach to perspective and sense of space.” She expressed glee about bringing her grandchildren to see the show.
Near the stained-glass work “America Windows,” visitors can reconfigure pieces and change the amount of light coming through their own interpretation.
“Children frequently ask, ‘Did I do this right?’’’ said Lianne Gayler, the museum’s director of development and marketing. Her response? “There is no right or wrong. It is up to you.”
On the walls surrounding the learning stations, a series of panels provide a timeline of Chagall’s life; each offers context that shaped the master’s art, including biographical events, art movements (like cubism, suprematism and fauvism) and historical events (such as the two world wars).
Irrespective of the world around him, Chagall remained true to his own personal style that was marked by complexity (witness “The Juggler”); unexpected colors (“Green Violinist”); optimism, caring and love (“Birthday”); incongruity including soaring figures (“The Flying Sleigh”); and whims (“The Rooster”).
Chagall’s forays into various different movements were each short-lived; he wound up reinterpreting elements of various movements into his own style. In “I and the Village” (below), he incorporated the basics of cubism into his own personal aesthetic, color palette and visual vocabulary. Essentially, his visits to other art movements were vacations, not relocations.
Chagall’s imagination demands attention, and his narratives frequently transform people, animals and objects in unexpected ways, demonstrating his unabashed optimism and playfulness.
Christian Hohmann, of Hohmann Fine Art on El Paseo in Palm Desert, is an underwriter of the exhibit. “It was, for me, a no-brainer,” he said. “Our gallery has long championed Chagall’s unique contributions to modern art.”
More importantly, Hohmann is father of two young girls, “(The Children’s Discovery Museum) is a place where my children can go have fun and learn. With public schools cutting back on the arts, the importance of the Children’s Discovery Museum is heightened.”
Sharon and Robert Freed also sponsored the Chagall for Children exhibit.
Chagall for Children will be on display at the Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert, 71701 Gerald Ford Drive, in Rancho Mirage, through Wednesday, April 27. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday; and 1 to 5 p.m., Sunday. The museum is also open every third Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. Admission is $8, with discounts; all adults must be accompanied by a child, and vice-versa. For more information, call 760-321-0602, or visit cdmod.org.