It has been many years since Rome hosted an exhaustive exhibition of the works of Joan Miró (1893–1983), the great Catalan artist who left his unmistakable mark on the European avant-garde art movements.
This exhibition features over 80 works never before shown in Italy, including 50 surprisingly beautiful, large-format oil paintings, but also terracotta sculptures, bronzes and watercolours. The masterpieces that can be admired include the oil paintings Woman in the Street (1973) and Untitled (1978); bronzes such as Woman (1967); sketches including that for the mural for Harkness Commons-Harvard University, all from the Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró in Palma de Mallorca, which owns many works by the artist and has granted them on extraordinary loan for their Italian debut.
Sponsored by the Spanish Embassy, the “Miró! Poetry and Light” exhibition has been produced and organized by the Arthemisia Group, 24 ORE Cultura – Gruppo 24 ORE and DART Chiostro del Bramante, in collaboration with the Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró. The exhibition will be held at the Chiostro del Bramante in Rome from 16 March to 10 June 2012.
It is curated by María Luisa Lax Cacho, considered one of the world’s leading experts on Miró, who has wished to illustrate the last stage of the production of the artist’s long life, when he finally made one of his great dreams come true in Majorca in 1956: a huge space of his own in which to work, protected by the peace and silence that only nature could offer him. On occasion of the exhibition Miró’s long-desired studio will be wholly reconstructed within the gallery space.
The exhibition is divided chronologically and thematically in the nine rooms of the itinerary, where visitors can admire the production of Joan Miró during the last 30 years of his life in Majorca. The story of the master is inextricably bound up with this island that, as his own words convey, represented poetry and light for him.
From the outset of his career Miró maintained that the artist’s objective should focus on large-scale projects, such as murals and other public art works, which also offered the opportunity to work together with architects and craftsmen, relegating easel paintings to a secondary role.
Miró’s public art projects, characterized by a combination of architecture and sculpture, derived in part from his deep admiration for Antoni Gaudí, are represented in the exhibition by works such as Sketch for the Mural of the Terrace Plaza Hotel in Cincinnati (1947) and Sketch for the Harkness Commons Graduate Center, Harvard University (1949–51), and the drawings for his Mural Project for the Union Nation Building in New York (1952-1953).
Miró was in Palma from 1956 onwards, marking the beginning of an intense period of work that also led him to criticize his old sketches and paint over them. Among these paintings and drawings, the exhibition features the aforementioned oil painting from 1908, the earliest one by Miró to have survived, which the artist had covered during this purging. This untitled work thus became the recto of an oil painting made in 1960.
This period is also represented by another untitled work, an oil and acrylic on canvas depicting a figure, a sort of doll, in which the disappearance of the artist's figurative style starts to become perceptible.
During the 1960s and ’70s the images and titles of his works continue to refer to his favourite themes, such as women, landscapes and birds. However, the iconography becomes abstract and the figures are amplified. The coexistence of different styles and techniques gave rise to static works like Mosaic (1966) and others with confused brushstrokes, such as Poem (1966). It was also the period in which Miró set aside his easel and started painting on the floor, walking on his canvases and lying on them, creating sprays and drips, as in Untitled, also made in 1966, using oil, acrylic and black charcoal with red and blue marks.
The 1970s witnessed a series of monochrome landscapes, such as Untitled, painted in 1973, and other substantially monochromatic paintings like the large-format canvases and another series of five later oil paintings, made in 1978 and displayed in a single room, which are blurred, visionary, minimalist, evanescent and animated, and illustrate Miró’s predilection for the black of the American abstract expressionists and Oriental calligraphy.
The artist’s last years – when he painted with his fingers, applying colour with his fists and got to grips with matter painting, spreading the impasto onto plywood, cardboard and recycled materials – are illustrated by works such as Figure, Bird (1976), an oil on glass-paper, wood and nails. The works with ethereal, modulated blue backgrounds, of which several examples are featured in the exhibition, including the intense Untitled (1978), also date from this period of his production.
Finally, it includes several sculptures that are the result of the experiments that the artist made during his lifetime with various materials and techniques, such as collage, object paintings and other works that, as the years progressed, were inspired by what he collected and that otherwise, as he himself wrote, "would be dead things or museum pieces".
The exhibition includes bronzes such as Woman (1966) and The Tightrope Walker (1969), assemblages like Figures (after 1973), which combines painting and sculpture and is directly descended from the object paintings of the 1930s, and terracotta sculptures, like the mask (Untitled, 1981) and the ceramic head (Untitled, 1981) that belong to a series of pieces that Miró made together with Hans Spinner, in Saint-Paul-de-Vence.
We have already noted the importance of the workplace for Miró which is why the Studio Sert in which he created some of his masterpieces has been reconstructed in the exhibition space. It includes all the objects, brushes and tools that Miró used, which have been preserved by the Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró.
“The meeting between fantasy and control, prudence and generosity, which perhaps can be considered a feature of the Catalan mentality may explain, at least in part, the fundamental basis of the art and personality of Joan Miró,” Gillo Dorfles wrote in an essay on the Catalan artist. This is the reason why the Renaissance setting of the Chiostro del Bramante offers an ideal counterpoint to the multifarious spirit of Miró and his language, composed of blots, graphic elements, splashes, prints, abrasions, stitches and nails.