October 13, 2018

Photo Essay: Feast Your Eyes on Chagall's Monumental Mosaic

"Do you like Chicago?" someone asked me the day after I'd gotten back from the Windy Cindy.

"It has amazing architecture and art..." I started to explain, when he interrupted me.

"But you can't eat the buildings."

Um, no, you can't. But fortunately Chicago is more than deep dish pizza and hot dogs.

There's also Chagall—a feast for the eyes.

The artwork by Marc Chagall that most people associate with Chicago is the "America Window," a stained glass work at the Art Institute that was featured in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

But while working stained glass provided the perfect opportunity for the Belarusian-born painter to play with color, so did another medium: tile.

Over 250 colors are represented in the tile chips that comprise Chagall's monumental mosaic piece "Four Seasons," installed in the plaza outside the Chase Tower in the Loop.

Installed in 1974, this gift to Chicago was a kind of culmination of Chagall's 30-year relationship with the city.

As its title suggests, it depicts scenes from all four seasons in various Chicago cityscapes.

It's a marvel how he got those pieces of glass to look just like one of his paintings or stained glass windows.

It's unmistakably and surreally... Chagall.

And it contains many of the same images found in Chagall's other works... birds and fish...

...pairs of lovers...

...and mothers and their babies.

At 70 feet long, 14 feet high, and 10 feet deep, it looks as though it depicts many more than just six scenes...

...and perhaps more than just four seasons... more than one city...

...and that's what makes it so hard to take your eyes off of it.

Interestingly, the Chicago that Chagall decided to portray was the one he'd last visited in the 1940s—which turned out to be seriously outdated.

So when he returned to Chicago three decades later to help install the monumental piece, he also helped update it to a more current version of the city.

Chicago wind and weather took its toll on the work over the next 20 years, requiring a million-dollar restoration. Now, it's protected by a canopy—which means that I could sit outside and enjoy it on a 40-degree fall morning when it had just been a summer-like 80 degrees the day before.

It felt like a necessary part of the experience. It wouldn't be the same if the "Four Seasons" were squirreled away inside a museum gallery somewhere.

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