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'Chagall's Le Cirque' Exhibit Showcases Wisconsin's Circus Tradition

Courtesy Rahr-West Art Museum, City of Manitowoc, Wisconsin
Portfolio # M-517 © 2019 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris."

Credit Courtesy of Jewish Museum Milwaukee, Barkin Family Collection
The Circus Parade on Wisconsin Ave., late 1990s.

Jewish Museum Milwaukee recently opened its "Chagall’s Le Cirque" exhibit. It’s the first time the complete collection of Marc Chagall’s 23 color and 15 black-and-white circus themed lithographs has been shown here. The collection is also showcasing objects from Wisconsin's circus history.

READ: Wisconsin: Home of 'The Greatest Show on Earth'

Chagall is one of the 20th century's most celebrated artists. His work is colorful, exuberant, and deeply human. Chagall's granddaughter, Bella Meyer, has been a lifelong fan of his work, and Spike Barkin — whose father helped found Milwaukee's Great Circus Parade — has similarly been a lifelong fan of his family's business: the circus. 

"For adults, I think [the circus] brings out the kid in you once again, because you sort of remember and reflect about that and the magic of the circus, the circus acts, the animals, the clowns — every aspect of it is geared to sheer enjoyment," says Barkin. 

Meyer adds, "I think that's also what links Chagall and the circus. So much of the Chagall world and the circus ... because both of these worlds bring out the most innocent of truth." 

The exhibit, "Chagall’s Le Cirque," is on display at Jewish Museum Milwaukee through early September.

Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.