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Jonathan Wilson On Chagall

Care to learn a little about the man behind the Chagall your temple Sisterhood’s so very into? Pick up a copy of Marc Chagall, the newest installment in Nextbook’s excellent Jewish Encounters series. Though he is perhaps the most famous, identifiable “Jewish Artist” in the world, Wilson quite skillfully provides a welcome antidote to our conventional, “lachrymose”, post-Holocaust, rampant shtetl-nostalgia, Fiddler-on-the-Roof bullshit Chagall associations, laying out a clear-eyed and fascinating look at the artist himself. Beyond being the dude forever, sadly yoked to flying rabbis, misplaced sentimentality, and lame synagogue art, here we find Chagall alongside Modigliani and Degas in Paris pre-WWI, Chagall the hardcore metro-sexual, given to wearing rouge, Chagall weathering enormous financial, political, and artistic setbacks, Chagall somewhat under-whelmed by Palestine in the ‘30s, and on and on. In Wilson’s own deft prose:

A book marking the vast contribution of Jews to the history of sentimentality, from the novelist Grace Aguilar through Al Jolson and Irving Berlin and on, let us say, to Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond, has yet to be written. But in it Chagall would surely have his own chapter, not because his paintings are desperately mawkish (and after all, sentimentality is not the attribute only of weaker artists — think of Dickens or Renoir) but because he walked the tightrope that separates sentimentality from deeper, more authentic feeling better than anyone, except perhaps the great Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai.

Those of you in New York have the opportunity to hear Wilson on Chagall tonight at Barnes & Noble in Chelsea at 7pm. Lucky you! And if you're not familiar with Wilson's ridiculously great fiction, you can't go wrong with his most recent story collection, the genuinely funny An Ambulance is on the Way.

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