Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Sarasota Social Diary: Chagall at the Selby

Marc and Bella Chagall in front of "Les fiancés," 1935, Paris (© Archives Marc et Ida Chagall, Paris)
by Geraldine Fabrikant

On January 30th, when Jennifer Rominiecki, president of Sarasota’s Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, waited at the garden for the arrival of “The Lovers,” a monumental painting by the artist Marc Chagall to arrive, there was a lot at stake.

She had arranged to borrow the work from the Israel Museum of Art and was planning Selby’s February 11th winter benefit and exhibit: ”Chagall: Flowers and the French Riviera: The Color of Dreams,” around the painting.

It had been flown from Israel to Miami and was being trucked across Florida to Sarasota. When it arrived at midnight: ‘It was very exciting,” Ms. Rominiecki recalled. “We all held our breaths.”
The crate with "The Lovers" arriving at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.
Osnat Sirkin of the Israel Museum, who served as the courier, and Jennifer Rominiecki, President and CEO of Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, in front of the crate with "The Lovers."
The open crate with "The Lovers" at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.
Bringing art work to a botanical garden had unique challenges. The staff could not even open the crate for two days because the painting had to acclimatize to the temperature, she recalled. Special security controls also had to be created for the large canvas as well as for the two Chagalls that Selby had arranged to borrow from a private collection: ”Bouquets de Lilas a Saint Paul,” and “Le Couple aux Muguets.” Neither had ever been exhibited before.   
Though Marc Chagall lived in many countries during his lifetime, much of his oeuvre was inspired by the beauty of the flowers in the South of France particularly in St. Paul de Vence where he lived for many years, and Ms. Rominiecki, who joined Selby from The New York Botanical Gardens, wanted to marry the artist’s work with the feel and colors of the gardens that had shaped the painter’s view.
The appeal of that approach was made clear two years ago when the New York Botanical Gardens’ show on Frida Kahlo, melding her art and garden style, broke attendance records with more than 500,000 guests. It even eclipsed the Garden’s Monet show of 2012 where it created approximations of two of Monet’s gardens. And last spring the New York Botanical Garden, mounted: “Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas” with an exhibit of painting and sculpture that compliments its evocations of the impressionist garden.

At Selby, the Chagall show mimicked that approach and it is Ms. Rominiecki’s most ambitious effort to date. But it is not her first attempt to shake things up at Selby. During the summer she launched “Splashin' Saturdays” with lots of water activities for kids, and she created a tony New Year’s Eve bash that drew 200 guests.
A scene from a Splashin' Selby Saturday.
The Chagall opening was sold out even before the invitations went out and brought together not only Sarasota’s old guard, but a chic young crowd that the garden has attracted through its four-year-old Ann Goldstein Children’s Rainforest Garden. The evening’s chairwomen: Liebe Gable, Katie Hollingsworth, Emily Stroud and Ashley Kozel all wore long evening dresses and some guests tucked flowers in their hair or onto their gowns.
Liebe Gamble (Gala Chair), Katie Hollingsworth (Gala Chair), Emily Walsh (Chair of the Board), Emily Stroud (Gala Chair), and Ashley Kozel (Gala Chair).
Chagall himself did not tend a garden, but the profusion of flowers in the South of France inspired him and he let them explode all over his canvases. And in his paintings, they were not necessarily sitting comfortably in pots and vases but often floating in the skies or placed seemingly on air. In the 1937 oil on canvas: “The Lovers” two lovers are surrounded by flowers floating through the air:

How the painting “The Lovers” got from Jerusalem to Sarasota is a saga in itself.
"The Lovers" and "Bouquets of Lilacs at Saint-Paul" exhibited in the historic Christy Payne Mansion, home of Selby Gardens' Museum of Botany & the Arts.
While at the New York Botanical Gardens, Ms. Rominiecki had gone to Cuba on a garden trip with, among other people, Shelby White, a Botanical Gardens board member, collector of antiquities and proprietor of a well known daffodil collection in Westchester. She introduced Ms. Rominiecki to James Snyder, the director emeritus at the Israel Museum who connected her to his mother-in-law Bernice Davis. Mrs. Davis, a Sarasota resident, is an avid gardener as well as a long time fan of Selby. She helped prevail on her son-in-law to lend the painting.
Shelby White visiting the Gardens earlier in the day.
Canvases were hardly the only medium Selby used to imbue the exhibit with Chagall’s sensibility. The artist became a fan of stained glass and designed a variety of windows. While those do not travel, Ms. Rominiecki had several copied in Plexiglas so that “Tribe of Ruben, The Twelve Tribes of Israel:” a four panel work was hung on the glass walls of Selby’s main conservatory.
“Tribe of Ruben, The Twelve Tribes of Israel" in the Selby’s main conservatory.
To convey Chagall’s whimsical use of flowers, gardeners at Selby created floral chandeliers filed with orchids and bromeliads and arranged clay pots from which poured out streams of flowers in exhubarent profusion. “We used floral chandeliers,’ Ms. Rominiecki said.

“Chagall did not get gravity.” Throughout the gardens were stands with Chagall’s quotes such as “In the arts as in life, everything is possible if it is based on love.” A field has been planted with salvia, the lilac color of which is meant to evoke the South of France.
"Floral chandeliers" in the main conservatory.
A vase belonging to Marc Chagall.
In front of the modest home in which the Selbys once lived, the gardeners placed cyprus trees and there was a profusion of citrus and bougainvillea, all evocative of the South.

“What we wanted to do was to recreate the atmosphere and the vibrant colors of the South of France and also to remind visitors of who Marc Chagall was and what inspired him,” Ms. Rominicieki said.
A field planted with salvia, evoking the South of France.
All this made for glorious backdrop to the orchid ball where cocktails were held in the garden by the bay and dinner was served under a white tent decorated with lush flower arrangements. “One of the most striking displays of an evening  that combined art and nature, were backdrops of floral  abstracts using Chagall’s vivid colors with live models painted in the exact same colors so that only as they slowly moved could you distinguish them from their painted backdrops,” Ms. White said.

To honor the theme of the Orchid Ball, some guests wore flowers on their dresses or in their hair. Nikki Sedacca wore a profusion of orchids on her shoulders while others chose floral prints. Rochelle Nigri’s pink strapless gown dripped with flowers and Irene Brooks chose a flower pattern. 
Art and nature came together during the Orchid Ball cocktail hour.
Guests entered the tented dinner through a tunnel of white balloons to find tables lush with flowers: centerpieces of red roses, antique hydrangeas, stock flowers and dahlias surrounded by a profusion of orchids. Greenery with red roses was suspended from the ceiling evoking Chagall’s world where nature is everywhere.
Christian Leavitt, Cami Leavitt, Liz Jones, and Caleb Jones.
Renee Phinney and Matt Campayno.
But the surprise of the evening were the desserts: which arrived in individual cake boxes that contained cakes shaped as blank canvases on artists’ palates with brushes and cups of edible paints so that guests could use them to design their own canvases before devouring them.
Guests seated for dinner.
Guests got to design their own canvases for dessert.
Among those who enjoyed the event were Congressman Vernon (Verne) Buchanan and his wife Sandy along with Dr. Carol Ockman, a professor of art at Williams College who has agreed to become curator at large for Selby. She had gotten in touch with Bella Meyer, one of Marc Chagall’s twin granddaughters. Ms. Meyer, who runs FleursBELLA, a flower shop in Greenwich Village, helped around for the garden to borrow family photographs from the Marc and Ida Chagall archive. “It is a beautiful story they are telling,” Ms. Meyer said of the exhibit.
Robert and Jennifer Rominiecki (President and CEO). Anand Pallegar and Megan Greenberg.
Kara and Drayton Saunders.
Valerie Leatherwood.
Bernice and Patrick Hebda. Matt and Diana Buchanan.
Aimee Cogan and Ariane Dart.
Knickole Barger, Scott Stone, and Susan Jones.
Irene and Mason Brooks. Kelly Van Vliet and Jessica Bringas.
Tyler Del Buono, Courtney Beth Church-Del Buono, Erin Hope Christy, and Doug Christy.