A New Exhibit Brings Together Work from a Formative Period in Marc Chagall’s Career

July 13 2018

In 1911, Marc Chagall left his native Russia for Paris, where he was exposed to various modernist and avant-garde artistic trends and produced some of his first mature works. He returned to Russia in 1914 and remained there through 1919, when changing political winds prompted him to leave. Now on display at the Guggenheim Bilbao, Chagall: The Breakthrough Years 1914-1919 highlights this period. John-Paul Stonard writes in his review:

Moishe Shagal, later known as Marc Chagall, was raised in the last years of the 19th century in Vitebsk, one of the shtetls in the Pale of Settlement, the part of the Russian empire to which the Jewish population had been confined since the days of Catherine the Great. He is known as a storyteller in painting and a colorist, but in the early years of his career he was above all a Jewish artist, which means that his greatest achievement, coming from a background in which there was hardly any tradition of the visual arts, was becoming a painter at all. . . .

Returning to small-town Vitebsk [in 1914] must have felt like a huge backward step after working in a studio at the heart of the avant garde. Yet returning to the Pale was also a return to the subject that truly animated him—Jewish life—and somehow the imagined colors and the substance of the paintings reconnect [in a way that they don’t in his Paris work]. The color begins to mean something again. In The Newspaper Vendor (1914) a newspaper seller, plying his wares against an acid orange sky, becomes an emblem of provincial gloom and poverty, the darkened greenish spires of the synagogue giving the impression of a forlorn town on the edge of a chemical works. The news is surely bad.

In the early years of the war, the news certainly was bad for Jews living in the western part of the Pale, who were subject to mass expulsions. Chagall saw his post-1914 paintings of Vitebsk as documents of a world that was disappearing. He captured the “very last days [of] small-town, pre-revolutionary Jewish-Russian existence,” as Jackie Wullschlager puts it in her indispensable biography of Chagall. Four large portraits of destitute old Jews dressed as rabbis are among his best paintings from the period (they have been brought together for the first time in Bilbao). The dark green face and yellow beard of Jew in Green is far from Parisian frivolity, but Chagall still uses to great effect the new vocabulary of painting, a flattened collage-like technique incorporating text, in this case Hebrew lettering. In Over Vitebsk, a figure with sack and stick drifts above the snowy town: the Wandering Jew of Chagall’s dream world.

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Read more at London Review of Books

More about: Arts & Culture, Jewish art, Marc Chagall, Russian Jewry, Shtetl, World War I

 

A University of Michigan Professor Exposes the Full Implications of Academic Boycotts of Israel

Sept. 26 2018

A few weeks ago, Professor John Cheney-Lippold of the University of Michigan told an undergraduate student he would write a letter of recommendation for her to participate in a study-abroad program. But upon examining her application more carefully and realizing that she wished to spend a semester in Israel, he sent her a polite email declining to follow through. His explanation: “many university departments have pledged an academic boycott against Israel in support of Palestinians living in Palestine,” and “for reasons of these politics” he would no longer write the letter. Jonathan Marks comments:

We are routinely told . . . that boycott actions against Israel are “limited to institutions and their official representatives.” But Cheney-Lippold reminds us that the boycott, even if read in this narrow way, obligates professors to refuse to assist their own students when those students seek to participate in study-abroad programs in Israel. Dan Avnon, an Israeli academic, learned years ago that the same goes for Israel faculty members seeking to participate in exchange programs sponsored by Israeli universities. They, too, must be turned away regardless of their position on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. . . .

Cheney-Lippold, like other boycott defenders, points to the supposed 2005 “call of Palestinian civil society” to justify his singling out of Israel. “I support,” he says in comments to the [Michigan] student newspaper, “communities who organize themselves and ask for international support to achieve equal rights [and] freedom and to prevent violations of international law.”

Set aside the absurdity of this reasoning (“Why am I not boycotting China on behalf of Tibet? Because China has been much more effective in stifling civil society!”). Focus instead on what Cheney-Lippold could have found out by using Google. The first endorser of the call of “civil society” is the Council of National and Islamic Forces in Palestine, which includes Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and other groups that trade not only in violent “resistance” but in violence that directly targets noncombatants.

That’s remained par for the course for the boycott movement. In October 2015, in the midst of the series of stabbings deemed “the knife intifada,” the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel shared a call for an international day of solidarity with the “new generation of Palestinians” who were then “rising up against Israel’s brutal, decades-old system of occupation.” To be sure, they did not directly endorse attacks on civilians, but they did issue their statement of solidarity with “Palestinian popular resistance” one day after four attacks that left three Israelis—all civilians—dead.

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Read more at Commentary

More about: Academia, Academic Boycotts, BDS, Israel & Zionism, Knife intifada