For weeks, banners and posters of Marc Chagall’s “Intersecting Traditions” have dotted campus and the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex announcing the University of Dallas’s exhibition of the artist’s biblical narrative prints opening Thursday, Feb. 4 and showing through April 22.
Indeed, having the works of a predominant Jewish artist of the 20th century exhibited in the humbly-sized Beatrice M. Haggerty Gallery on the UD campus is significant to both the immediate academic community as well as the Dallas area at large.
“Intersecting Traditions” participates in the university’s larger celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Vatican’s declaration, “Nostra Aetate,” which emphasizes the unity of all people, Christian and non-Christian alike.
Chagall was born in 1887 in Vitebsk, in the Russian Empire and had a long and fruitful career that defies definition. He touched upon almost every medium before his death in 1985 in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France.
“Marc Chagall is almost impossible to discern in terms of stylistic movement. So he is influenced by Fauvism, Cubism, Surrealism,” art history professor Dr. Catherine Caesar said. “He also influences those movements directly. Indeed, the Cubists and Surrealists tried to kind of think of Marc Chagall as one of their own, and yet he wasn’t willing to say that he was an artist that was associated with any specific movement. He transgresses them.”
Perhaps it was Chagall’s unique story that so charmed Beatrice Haggerty at an auction that her husband, Patrick Haggerty, acquired Chagall’s collection of 105 hand-colored biblical narrative etchings as a gift for his wife.
Though Patrick Sr. and Beatrice have since passed away, their son Patrick Jr., an alumnus of the UD art department, recalls the prints in his childhood home. Now, the prints are framed and normally reside at the Haggerty Museum at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wis.
It was following Mr. Patrick Haggerty Jr.’s initiative that these prints are on loan to the Beatrice M. Haggerty Gallery.
Building a united campus was at the forefront of Mr. Haggerty’s mind when he made the arrangements for the loan.
“As a liberal arts school, art is very important and it’s extremely important to tie the campus together,” Haggerty said. The most striking curatorial decision made by new gallery director Scott Peck was to paint the walls three colors: vibrant yellow, cornflower blue and citrus green. The colors are meant to allude to Chagall’s often over-saturated style as well as diversify the small gallery space and break up the repetitive display of similarly-sized and identically-framed prints.
Peck has worked with these priceless prints several times in his years as curator of the Museum of Biblical Arts in Dallas. Because the etchings are primarily black and white, Peck turned to color to optimize the dynamism of the space.
Printmaking professor Steven Foutch spoke of the intaglio printmaking, or etching, method that Chagall used, describing it to be characteristically loose for Chagall’s time.
Foutch explained how etchings “can be really immediate and unpredictable, and I think [Chagall’s] prints embrace that kind of spontaneity.”
Chagall’s stylistic choices, influenced by Fauvism and folk-art, are bold, while maintaining a child-like simplicity. This perfectly fits the etchings’ content: biblical narratives.
“The biblical narratives just continue to speak to the human condition, no matter if you’re Catholic, Buddhist, Atheist, whatever,” Foutch said. “That’s why – from the metaphors in the religious texts – that’s why they continue to be pious and return to that fountain for hope and enlightenment. We’re all looking for enlightenment.”
Here at UD, the curriculum is an inheritance of a long movement in education to reclaim the study of the liberal arts. History professor Dr. Susan Hanssen spoke to the special symbolism in the timing of these particular prints: namely, the 1950s, when there was a movement to incorporate the Jewish and Christian traditions.
“That turn toward wanting to explore biblical themes … a willingness and an openness to exploring themes in the 1950s, is one of the responses to the horrors of the Holocaust and the horrors of man’s destruction of man,” Hanssen said. “So you’re like: ‘What is man? Why do we think that man has an intrinsic dignity?’ ”
Dr. Jonathan Sanford, Dean of Constantin College, who takes a personal interest in Chagall’s oeuvre, sees a tie between Chagall’s prints and the mission of the university itself.
“[Chagall] finds the way to combine the particularities of his own experiences and fuses them [with] a rich symbolism that speaks to our souls in a universal way,” Sanford said.
Ceramicist and professor Dan Hammett regards the exhibition on campus as an opportunity to facilitate discussion about other issues amongst the immediate academic community on campus.
“That’s the whole point of this,” Hammett said. “We could say, ‘Let’s talk about the artwork.’ But the real issue here is how it affects every phase of your education and how does that relate?”
“We are trying to follow the mission to the church and, as a responsible member of the academic community, we hope that the other schools are taking the direction also,” Hammett said, harkening back to “Nostra Aetate.” “It’s only through the contributions of board members and staff and administration that we were able to create such a bold move.”