By Jim Bleyer
The li’l ole Polk County Museum of Art on Lakeland’s Florida Southern College campus brims with visitors.
The reason: a display of works by Belarus-born Marc Chagall (1887-1985), one of the world’s most pre-eminent modernists. The “Chagall: Stories into Dreams” smash lures residents from throughout the Southeast and tourists from all over, an assistant curator told Tampa Bay Beat.
The exhibition runs through Sunday, January 6, 2019.
Chagall’s name and reputation ranks second only to Picasso during the period of post-Impressionist cultural upheaval. The pair unarguably maintain the top two faces on the Mount Rushmore of 20th century artists. The only real discussion: who is worthy enough to be chiseled alongside them.
Modernism, in general, includes the activities and creations of thinkers who felt traditional forms of art, architecture, literature, religious faith, philosophy, social organization, activities of daily life, and sciences, were obsolete in light of the new economic, social, and political environment that emerged in a fully industrialized world.
The movement encouraged the re-examination of every aspect of existence, from commerce to philosophy, with the goal of finding that which was ‘holding back’ progress and replacing it with new ways of reaching the same end. Many focus on modernism as an aesthetic introspection.
For the most part, modernists eschewed religious themes. Chagall was an exception. The eldest of nine children, Chagall’s parents were observant Hasidic Jews whose lives were defined by their faith.
Russia offered a predominantly hostile environment to its significant, visible Jewish population, a reality that Chagall understood as a child. Old Testament themes and a desire to document the Jewish experience in Tsarist Russia account for Chagall’s prolific output of religion-oriented art.
Besides the Chagall exhibit, the Polk has other surprises including works by Romaine Brooks, a Chagall contemporary who led a tempestuous life. Brooks was a lesbian who had to endure prejudices both professionally and personally.
Brooks was fortunate in that she inherited wealth and selling her paintings was not a priority. She purposefully did not become part of the many art movements that blossomed during her glory years preferring portraiture over Fauvism and Cubism. Her works are as multi-layered as her complex life.
There are also concurrent exhibitions by John Jacopelle and Cuban-American exiles at the Polk.
My only beef: the vibrant red wall used as a backdrop for many of the Chagall pieces. It’s too overpowering for what should be a member of the supporting cast, not a major player.
The exhibition is sponsored by Dorothy and Charles Jenkins, Jr. What the Jenkins family (Publix Supermarkets) has given to Polk County through generations cannot possibly be measured.
Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College
800 East Palmetto Street
Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Sunday 1-5 p.m.
Chagall exhibit runs through Jan. 6, 2019.
Admission is always free.