Joan Miro is considered one of the greatest modern-surrealist artists of the 20th century. The Catalan-born artist had a mature style that combined abstract art with Surrealist fantasy. His colorful lithographs had a poetic, playful energy while his sculptures captured a more obscure characteristic that reached into “a phantasmagoric world of living monsters,” according to Miro himself. With a career spanning almost a century, he worked extensively in lithography, producing many paintings, murals, sculptures and even tapestries for public places.
The Seattle Art Museum presents a retrospective of Miro: The Experience of Seeing until May 26th, 2014. The exhibit, which is possibly the first major Miro exhibition on the West Coast, focuses on the last twenty years of the artist’s work (1963-1983) and his refinement of figure, line and color. The sixty-one pieces are on loan from the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia collection in Madrid.
The vibrantly colored paintings illustrate Miro’s special visual language interspersed within his near-abstract compositions. Miro developed this distinctive painterly expression to reflect his vision across the variety of mediums in which he worked.
The artist’s sculptures on view are from earlier periods, but many of the same forms and language are identifiable. Having juxtaposed the paintings with the sculptures in the gallery enables his works to “stand in direct dialogue with each other,” generating a combined effect between the two mediums. During the later period of his career, Miro was intrigued with the connection between painting and sculpture, something that had not been part of his earlier pieces.
For twelve years, Miro lived in Paris and was associated with the late 1920’s Surrealists. As a contemporary of Picasso, Miro was recognized for his almost whimsical paintings using the system of symbols and signs. Then, when the Spanish Civil War broke out, and he could not return home, his work contained “overtly political commentary.” However, not confined by traditionalism or any specific artistic style, Miro continued to push the boundaries. In interviews, the artist often voiced his disdain for conventional painting techniques. He had avowed an “assassination of painting” in support of upsetting the fundamentals of traditional compositions.
His concentration in sculpting resulted from a desire to broaden the limitations of painting on canvas. Miro’s sculptures are upcycled assemblages; a complete divergent from his paintings. He made use of objects that he discovered on his walks such as engine parts, household items, wood scraps and more. Later, working in bronze, the artist produced sculptures that were smooth and polished and at other times, the sculptures revealed “richly varied patinas.” In the 60s, Joan Miro began to incorporate color to his sculptures “in a direct, elementary way,” which gave him even more liberty to create. This new possibility also empowered him to produce monumental pieces for public spaces.
Notably, one of Joan Miro’s epic pieces was a tapestry made especially for the World Trade Center. He had originally turned down the proposal because he stated that he did not create any art in which he did not use his hands. After a personal tragedy, Miro made a promise to work with a tapestry maker to learn the craft. In 1974, he expressly created the wool and hemp WTC tapestry for the World Trade Center. Hung in the south tower lobby, it was one of the works of art lost in the 9/11 attacks.
As seen in the Seattle retrospective, Joan Miro endlessly sought to break new ground in order to create an experience “that would transcend the physical object.”
by Dawn Levesque
Seattle Art Museum
The Seattle Times