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Chagall and the Artists of the Russian Jewish Theater (Jewish Museum) Hardcover – November 25, 2008
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The book tells the story of those two companies, draws a vivid portrait of the main actors (Salomon Mikhoels murdered by Stalin's henchmen in 1948), authors (Dobrushin, Babel, Asch...), artists (Chagall, of course, but also Natan Altman, Robert Falk, Ignaty Nivinsky or Isaac Rabinovich)and musicians (Lev Pulver, Moshe Milner...)who collaborated in all sorts of ways in this unique cultural experience.
The title is slightly misleading as Chagall left Goset in 1922 and the company went on until 1949 with many other artists taking a central role in designing costumes and sets, many of which are beautifully illustrated in never-before-seen images in the book.
This book is also a marvelous document on the Jewish cultural life in Russia during the first half of the XXth century, its relationship to Zionism and Communism and the diversity of the many artists taking part in it.
Quoting from the catalogue: "To a large degree the Jewish theatre was influenced by the mass pageants, street performances, Russian circus, cabaret and music -hall burlesque of the early 20th century. Jewish artists absorbed the language of revolutionary art movements in Europe and Russia, notably Cubism, Futurism and Constructivism."
The first section of this catalogue contains informative articles related to GOSET and Habimah. The balance of the book contains illustrations featured in the exhibition; costume designs, posters, costumes plus historic photographs of stage sets, actors and artists.
One of the main centrepieces of the exhibition were the six theatre murals by Chagall. These are attractive works in the typical Chagall style. Using this artist's name in the title of the catalogue is an obvious marketing ploy and somewhat deceptive. Chagall's participation in the exhibition content is relatively minor; in fact Nathan Altman's works are at least equally prominent but his name lacks Chagall's cachet.
Nevertheless, this book gives a fascinating overview of Russian Jewish Theatre
in words and archival illustrations. The book is well printed with excellent quality reproductions.
I came to this book without much knowledge of this specific subject, and the introduction was interesting and easy to follow. There are many illustrations, both color and black and white, which help to place Chagall in a wider context.
Closing this book, I came away with a great deal of respect to all the people who worked in these two theaters. They were very courageous as well as talented. Some, like Solomon Mikhoels, paid for it with their lives. This is a world that deserves to be rediscovered.
The book itself is beautifully produced and typeset. A sumptuous introduction.