I’m a great admirer of Chagall and his work, and was looking forward to revisiting his Museum in Nice to discover just what last winter’s three-month renovation had achieved. So, on a sunny, warm Sunday afternoon in June I was happy to return, this time with a friend who was visiting Nice and who’d never paid Chagall much attention. After a leisurely 20-minute stroll from the city Centre, we arrived in lower Cimiez at the gates of the museum garden. As Chagall was closely involved in designing this, too, its aesthetic is important (especially to me, as it echoes my own taste). Sadly, it was not well-maintained and there was trash on the lawn when we arrived. No evidence of renovation, here. The cafe in the garden is still a pleasant place to sit and enjoy drinks, light snacks and lunch – so that’s where we stopped after our visit to chat about our impressions. We were disappointed that the famous stained-glass windows were completely covered so that a film of some of Chagall’s theatre work could be projected. The film is illuminating, but nowhere near as much as those windows (which are one of the major features of the building). That’s one aspect to an element of carelessness as to how the museum is run – the accompanying website is poor and out-of-date. Descriptive texts next to the paintings have sometimes been poorly translated, not proof-read and (in at least one case) were not complete. No evidence of renovation here, either. Staff were plentiful, if inattentive, at the entrance for ticketing and for purchasing in the shop, but only one member was actually in evidence in the galleries, without ID, and he seemed permanently agitated. I fully believe this museum was a great gift from Chagall and that those who are now in charge of curating and caring for it could do better. Indeed, there’s such an air of carelessness to the place that it’s as well for us all that Chagall’s work can take care of, and speak for, itself. I’ll go back again, to listen.
I went into the Weinstein Gallery on Union Square in San Francisco on the eighteenth of April 2008 because I saw Chagall in the window. A. Lot. Of. Chagall. Works I’d never seen before. As I entered, just on the threshold, a man approached. I thought, that’s it, the game’s up, I’ll not get anywhere near these art works as he’ll know instantly that I cannot afford a single one. I took a deep breath, went straight for honesty and told him that I was there simply as I had a love affair with Marc Chagall. He didn’t mind. Quite the opposite was true. Patiently, he told me that all the art came from private collections and was for sale and that anyone was free to come in and appreciate the works before they disappeared into the next private collector’s hands (or safe). The man’s name was Carlos Saura. We shook hands. I told him more of my love for Chagall and my recent visit to Musée Marc Chagall in Nice. Then, he took me upstairs to where I could be alone with the art works. After a while, I couldn’t tell you how long, I emerged. I was literally glowing. Carlos was waiting; we walked and talked. I learned more of the man whose work I’d fallen in love with and more of his peers. Carlos’ admiration lay primarily with Picasso and, when I asked him, he explained why. We also talked of Andy Warhol’s impact on the art world; how nothing would ever be the same again. As we walked through the beautifully curated collection, Carlos asked if I enjoyed the work of Joan Miró. When I replied that I did indeed, we went down to the basement, where an exhibition of his work was in the process of being mounted. The room was busy, all those working there were smiling. I was given a private view of the works, back to front and back again – some with private messages written on them by the artist. Eventually, after my private tour, I had to take my leave and head back out into the tourist crowds on Union Square to reach my apartment. Once again, we shook hands. Only this time Carlos shook hands with a much wealthier woman. His knowledge and my experience that afternoon had enriched me.
At their best?