A few years ago, we vacationed in Barcelona. Among the many places we visited in that extraordinary city was the museum operated by the Fundacio Miro, the foundation created during the life of the famed Catalonian artist Joan Miro to celebrate not only his works,but the works of other contemporary artists, as well. Housed in a beautiful building designed by architect Jose Luis Sert high on Montjuic, with a view over the city, I hoped to see a wonderful exhibit and learn about Miro.
I was disappointed in the musuem. I decided (perhaps incorrectly) that what I saw was not a great selection of Miro’s paintings, and I don’t recall (again, my recollection might be wrong) that there was very much explanatory material to put the display in context. (I did enjoy the Miro sculptures on the roof, and I thought that the display of works by other artists dedicated to Miro was interesting.)
When I saw that there was to be a Miro exhibit at the National Gallery, I was less than enthusiastic. But, having seen it yesterday, I can say that I found it top notch. So different was my reaction in Barcelona.
The exhibit was developed by the Foundation and the Tate Modern, with “assistance” from the National Gallery. The selection of the works of art was excellent and the sources were wide. A few of the best pieces come from the National Gallery collection. I did not look at the provenance of all the pieces, but saw little from the Foundation and only one from the Tate. A large number of pieces were from private collections. A significant number seemed to come from Scandinavian museums.
But the best thing about the exhibit is the explanatory material, which follows Miro’s long life, and enables you to appreciate his works in context with that life. Born to a business oriented family in Barcelona in 1893, he father was determined, to no avail, that he become a businessman. The pressures on him were heavy and at 18, he had a breakdown and went to live at a family owned farm, where he concentrated on semi-representational, semi-geometric drawings of rural Catalonian life. In 1920, he moved to Paris, came in contact with French modernist painters, adopted a somewhat surrealist style, and instead of painting the detailed pictures of his earlier years, began to focus on simplicity, with small representations of Catalan images (flags, peasants, ladders, etc). Two things remained from his rural work – the beautifully, rich colors, and the very Catalonian themes.
Then trouble came to Catalonia, and to Spain in general – demonstrations in Barcelona for more autonomy; autonomy promised, given and taken away; Spanish governments rising and fallng; and Civil War. Suddenly, Miro’s paintings take a turn for the grotesque, and they remain that way as the years of the war drag on, until it looked like Miro just got tired of it, and went instead to what was called his Constellation series – non-political, viewed as landscapes, but to me looked like underwater pictures, with all sorts of things falling around. I thought I was back in the Monterey Aquarium. More abstract work, concentrations on simplicity once more, and on color, color, color.
It’s a wonderful exhibit, accompanied by a first class 17 minutes film. It will be there until the 12th of August. That should give you time.