The design for the exhibition “Chagall and the Bible. Unreleased works at the Diocesan Museum” develops along the central nave on the first floor of a wing of Sant'Eustorgio cloister, occupied by the Diocesan Museum of Milan.
The space is a sort of perspective telescope 45mt long, 4.5mt wide and 7mt high, concluded by a sequence of groin vaults and illuminated by large oculi.
The central theme of the exhibition is a collection of 22 unreleased preparatory gouaches representing biblical episodes, dating back to the 30s and followed by hand-colored engravings and sculptures realized more than 20 years later.
The exhibition is completed by a suite of oil paintings.
The display is divided into three parts. An introductory area, about 15 mt long, shaped like a dromos, an elongated space, characterized by a double system of walls hosting some works and preliminary explanations. In the middle of the dromos a "bachelor machine" has been placed, a sort of pendulum hanging from the ceiling of the nave. The pendulum carries, suspended in the void against a large circular backdrop, a painting portraying King David on a blue background, and, on the other side, a mirroring stainless steel plate, reflecting and at the same time slightly deforming the further exhibition space.
The pendulum is a reference to Constructivism and its leading figures, with whom Chagall had dealings in the Revolution years; on the other hand, they recall the Surrealist and Cubist avant-gardes of 1920s Paris - where Chagall lived -, with whom he discussed and exchanged ideas.
The central part of the museum wing is occupied by a small architecture, 17mt long and 6mt high, characterized by a steep gable roof. The pitches are separated by a 40cm wide skylight, a “cut” which visually connects Chagall's sky to the museum vaults.
This ideal pentagonal Ark (a reference to the Pentateuch) - which contains and, at the same time, protects the series of gouaches, etchings and small white Carrara marble sculptures is a recreation of the small Synagogues in the rural villages of Nineteenth century Russia.
The walls of the Ark are articulated in two staggered exhibition plans: the gouaches are exposed in the foreground, detached from the walls and inclined like the pages of a book and the engravings, temporally detached, are placed in a sequence of deep niches.
Every niche, 80cm wide and 210cm high, hosts one or two engravings, so that the visitor can have an individual relationship with them, according to an idea of proximity between the works and the audience and between the works themselves.
Gouaches and corresponding gravures are collected according to specific themes, which together ideally reconstruct the great biblical narrative. The sculptures placed within the Ark are located near the gravures and gouaches representing the same themes.
In order to make more evident the relationship between the different works, the sculptures' supports are connected to the exhibition walls by a floor of the same dark silver color chosen as background for the gouaches inside the niches.
The entire wooden structure of the Ark "hides" the color (dark grey matte), highlighting only the works of art.
The last part of the exhibition consists in a pause upon exiting the ark: a system of drapes collect in a fragmented fashion a last group of narrative elements (ceramics, sculptures and engravings). A self-portrait of Chagall, facing the Ark, is aligned with the mirrored sheet metal pendulum suspended at the beginning of the exhibition path, in order to reconstitute a visual and ideal link between the artist, his works and the visitors.