Methodist University’s McCune Gallery Hosts Chagall Exhibit’s First U.S. Show

"The Story of the Exodus" by Marc Chagall

“The Story of The Exodus,” a series of 24 lithographs by Marc Chagall, will be on display at the David McCune International Art Gallery at Methodist University from Feb. 8 to April 6, 2018. There will be an opening reception for the show on Feb. 8 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the gallery. This will be the first time the exhibit has traveled to the United States from a private collection in Italy. Admission is free, though donations are encouraged.

“I am excited about the Chagall show coming to the McCune,” said Naoma Ellison, a member of the gallery’s board of directors. “Not only is ‘The Story of The Exodus’ a beautiful show, this is the first time this collection of lithographs will be exhibited in the U.S. It offers an opportunity not to be missed!”

The gallery is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturdays from noon to 4. The gallery is closed Sundays and Mondays, as well as March 4-12, 30 and 31, when the campus will observe Spring Break and Easter Break.

Docents, trained by author, lecturer and Chagall historian Vivian R. Jacobson, will be available for group tours with arrangements at least one week in advance. Groups of more than ten people are asked to make advance arrangements, with or without a docent request. To arrange a group visit or a docent tour, contact Gallery Executive Director Silvana Foti at 910.630.7107.

The exhibit is organized by The Art Company of Pesaro, Italy, and sponsored in part by The Arts Council of Fayetteville/Cumberland County, the Cumberland Community Foundation: David and Helen Clark Art Museum Fund and Community Arts Endowment and the Union-Zukowski Endowment for Multi-Cultural Understanding.

Raised in a Russian Chassidic Jewish family, Chagall’s work often speaks to the influences of his religious upbringing, even though he chose not to practice his parents’ religion. Chagall illustrated several Biblical stories in his lifetime, but because he published this series in 1966, after World War II, the images also reflect his expressions about post-Holocaust life and the circumstances that led to the creation of the state of Israel, as well as the traditions of Chassidic lore.

In his commentary on the lithographs, Rabbi Robert C. Kline of the Temple Museum said, “Chagall’s Exodus does not concentrate on the direction of doctrine or institutional readings of the text. His Exodus centers on the story of people; the masses the artist seems to love and admire, and the story of their deeply human leaders; leaders inspired by a Divine light undertaking the task before them with desire and reverence while perhaps not fully comprehending the reasons why.”

At the heart of the Exodus is the figure of Moses, who is pictured by Chagall as a guide who is both omnipresent and compassionate, a father inspired by the divine light yet also a mortal father returning his people to a nation which is to be founded in the 20th Century. The artist portrays Moses with a thick white beard, his head lit by the divine light of God, shown by beams of light that at times take the shape of horns in a witty tribute to the Moses of Michelangelo in the church of San Pietro in Vinicoli.

Each work in the cycle of lithographs is accompanied by an extract taken from The Book of Exodus, freeing Chagall from faithfully representing the words and allowing him to work via a series of highly evocative and forthright images. The extract texts are written with the archaic English spelling of the 1611 King James Bible.

It’s worth noting that the series does not include Passover, a significant section of the Exodus story. Chagall chose not to include that imagery in order to temper the narration of both the pain inflicted by the oppressors and that of the key doctrine of the text, so that, in Chagall’s eyes, the story is told less as a dramatic flight of people and more as the people’s joyful path toward liberation.

While the lithographs’ narrative cycle can be read on many different levels, the extraordinary mastery and quality of composition also owes a great deal to the artist’s technical skill. For Meyer Schapiro, who wrote the introduction to Chagall’s “Illustrations for the Bible,” the figures by Chagall “possess a unique power of gesture that captivates us by the homely naturalness and sincerity of their movements.”

Related Events

Methodist University has planned several related events during the run of the exhibit.

On Friday, Feb. 9, at 7 p.m. at the Cameo Art House Theatre in downtown Fayetteville, the gallery will host a lecture by Bella Meyer, who is Chagall’s granddaughter. Advance tickets are required for this event, which has limited seating. Tickets are free with an MU ID, or $50 to the public. For tickets, contact Gallery Executive Director Silvana Foti at 910.630.7107. Public tickets must be picked up by Feb. 1. Meyer, who is also the owner and creative director of floral design business FleursBELLA in New York City, writes and lectures on various aspects of her grandfather’s work, sourcing from extensive research and her personal experiences. Meyer was born in Paris and raised in Switzerland, and received her doctorate in medieval art history from the Sorbonne in Paris. She formerly held a position with the Visual Arts at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York.

One of the films in the Center for Global Education’s Foreign Film Festival this year will be tied to the exhibit. On Friday, Feb. 23, at 7 p.m. in the Professional Nursing Studies Building Auditorium, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” will be screened after a brief discussion on Expressionism and Modernism in relation to Chagall. The 1920 silent Gothic film is a German Expressionist work directed by Robert Wiene. The discussion will include MU professors Dr. Cristina Francescon, Dr. Cameron Dodworth and Dr. Carl Dyke. This event is free and open to the public, but seats are limited on a first-come basis. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Dodworth will also moderate an interdisciplinary panel discussion on Chagall Monday, Feb. 26, at 11 a.m. (Location TBA). Faculty participants Dr. Kelly Walter Carney, Dr. Peter Murray, Dr. Stephanie Hooper Marosek and Carrah Royal will discuss how their research and academic interests connect to the life and/or work of Chagall, including a question and answer period with attendees. This event is free and open to the public.

The next event will be “A Chagall Visual Prayer Book,” led by Rabbi Eve Eichenholtz from Fayetteville’s Beth Israel Congregation and MU Chaplain Rev. Kelli W. Taylor. At 11 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 28, in Hensdale Chapel, the two will lead a guided meditation focused on the works in the exhibit. The service will include special music by the MU Chorale. This event is free and open to the public.

Lastly, this year’s Womack Lecture Series, which will include lectures in Yarborough Auditorium at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 21, will feature Dr. Brian Britt of Virginia Tech. Britt will discuss the lithographs as part of the “reception” of the Book of Exodus. Britt, who holds a doctorate in Hebrew Bible, is the author of “Rewriting Moses: The Narrative Eclipse of the Text.” Both of the Womack Lectures are free and open to the public.

About Chagall

Chagall was born Moishe Segal in Vitebsk, Belarus in the Russian Empire in 1887 but later moved to Paris where he changed his name and took French citizenship. One of the greatest modern artists of his time, at his death in 1985 he left behind an immense body of work in virtually every artistic format, including painting, book illustrations, stained glass, stage sets, ceramic, tapestries and fine art prints. Chagall’s works are known for depicting a highly subjective visual realm filled with his own dreamlike poetic lyricism, subverting the laws of perspective and gravity, as well as those of time and space, a world where majestic colors were the result of intimate yet seemingly arbitrary decisions. His extraordinary imagination added a fantastical dimension to the small acts of everyday life while embracing his key themes of childhood, life in rural Russia, in Jewish communities, and in Paris at the beginning of the Twentieth Century.

About the McCune Gallery

The David McCune International Art Gallery is located in the William Bethune Center for Visual Arts on the campus of Methodist University. Its mission is to coordinate exhibitions of art by student, regional, national, and international artists, educating students and the public through a diverse representation of fine art. Since its opening in 2010, the McCune Gallery has been Fayetteville’s premier art venue, where works from traveling exhibitions, fine art on loan from museum collections throughout the world, and works by Methodist University students are displayed. Recent shows at the gallery attracted significant crowds and critical attention. Three of the gallery’s most successful exhibitions were the bronze sculptures of “Rodin: Portraits of a Lifetime, Selections from the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Collections;” “Picasso: 25 Years of Edition Ceramics from the Rosenbaum Collection;” and “Igneous Expressions,” a collection of glass art by 26 artists from western North Carolina that included work by Harvey Littleton, the father of American studio glass.