Homage to Apollinaire Marc Chagall, 1911/12
200.4 x 189.5 cm, Oil on canvas, (Collection Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven)
I visit the Tate Liverpool's "Chagall: Modern Master" show and reflect on why going to art exhibitions is completely different from looking at images of art in books or online.
Having made a four hour round trip to visit the Tate Liverpool's Chagall exhibition whilst in the UK recently, I can definitely say that making the effort to see art in a gallery or museum setting is time and money well spent.
Surprises in Scale
When we see the work 'live', there are inevitably many surprises in store when it comes to the scale of work. In a book or online, all the work is reduced to the same lilliputian scale which we see from our giant's perspective, but there in front of the work, our whole bodies react to the art, changing the dynamic entirely.
Confronted with a wall completely filled by Chagall's Homage to Apollinaire (a whacking two metres square) gave me a completely different concept of Chagall as an artist – to say nothing of the tremendous appreciation he must have felt for Apollinaire to have put that kind of effort into homaging him. What appears like a little illustration in my book on Chagall, loomed imposing and magnificent on it's solitary wall. Love it or hate it, you couldn't ignore it.
The Magic of the Medium
The same painting jolted my perspective about Chagall's use of media. Great swathes of this painting are rendered in gold and silver paint, something it's impossible to appreciate in a reproduction. Chagall, it turns out, was a mixed-media artist who never used just ink if he could add in gouache and pencil as well. He was a also master at incorporating the most ordinary materials to great effect and cardboard and brown paper were stock items in his artistic arsenal, sometimes mounted onto canvas. Whether this was by design or necessity, I've no idea but given the turbulent times he lived in, I suspect necessity played a part.
Profile at the Window Marc Chagall, 1918
22 x 16.8 cm Graphite, gouache and ink on paper (Centre Pompidou, Paris)
Chagall also used pencil extensively on his canvases – often leaving large areas of his works in this raw state and juxtaposing them with areas of vivid painted colour, an effect whose power it's difficult to appreciate until you see it first hand.
The Painter: To the MoonMarc Chagall, 1917
32 x 30 cm Gouache and watercolour on paper
Subtleties of Shade
One of my favourite Chagall pieces The Painter: To the Moon, on seeing it live, turned out to be tiny (30 cm square) and roughly trimmed to an unusual u shape as well as considerably lighter than it appears in reproductions.
Love on the Stage Marc Chagall, 1920
283 x 248 cm Tempera and gouache on canvas (Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow)
Likewise, Love on Stage, 1920 (one of the canvas murals produced for the interior of the State Jewish Chamber Theatre in Moscow, which came to be nicknamed 'Chagall's Box') as well as being huge in scale, is incredibly light and delicate and almost abstract. These characteristics make it nearly impossible to make out the figures, yet even the Tate's own reproductions of the piece, show it with much higher tonal contrast changing the ambience of the piece entirely.
So, even if you can't get to see large public exhibitions like Chagall: Modern Master, it's still worthwhile disconnecting from the net, slipping that coffee table book back on the shelf and visiting an art exhibition in your local area.
There's nothing quite like getting right in to squint at a brushstroke and then standing way back to take in the whole piece to enlarge your appreciation of the work and get those creative juices pumping!