Joan Miró Exhibition At The MoMA – Painting and Anti-Painting 1927–1937
“Joan Miró: Painting and Anti-Painting 1927–1937” is the first major museum exhibition to identify the core practices and strategies Joan Miró (Spanish, 1893–1983) used to attack and reinvigorate painting between 1927 and 1937, a vital decade within his long career. Taking as its point of departure the notorious claim Miró made in 1927—“I want to assassinate painting”—the exhibition explores 12 of Miró’s sustained series from this decade, and includes some 90 paintings, collages, objects, and drawings. The exhibition is organized by Anne Umland, Curator, Department of Painting and Sculpture, The Museum of Modern Art, and will be on view in The Joan and Preston Robert Tisch Gallery, from November 2, 2008, through January 12, 2009.
Explains Ms. Umland, “This exhibition takes a close-up, in-depth look at a decade’s worth of Miró’s work, created during a period of economic and political turmoil, illuminating the way his drive to assassinate painting led him to reinvigorate, reinvent, and radicalize his art. The resulting body of work is at times willfully ugly, and at others savagely beautiful. It brings together both beloved masterpieces and largely unfamiliar works, transforming our understanding of Miró’s legacy for our own twenty-first century times.”
In 1941, The Museum of Modern Art organized the first full retrospective of Miró’s work to be mounted anywhere in the world, followed by major exhibitions in 1959 and 1973, and a landmark retrospective, presented on the centennial of his birth, in 1993. Fifteen years later, Joan Miró: Painting and Anti-Painting 1927–1937 offers a fresh look at the artist’s work through a tightly focused presentation of a single transformative decade.
By assembling in unprecedented depth the interrelated series of works of this decade, this exhibition repeatedly poses the question of what painting meant to Miró and what he proposed as its opposite, and in the process reveals the artist’s paradoxical nature: an artist of aggression and resistance who never ceased to be a painter, a creator of forms. Acidic color, grotesque disfigurement, purposeful stylistic heterogeneity, and the use of collage and readymade materials are among the tactics that Joan Miró used to take apart and reconstruct painting and his own art.
The body of work Miró produced between 1927 and 1937 is symptomatic of the troubling malaise and creeping sense of doom that emerged in Europe as the so-called Roaring Twenties came to an end, and as the political tensions that would, by 1939, lead to World War II became increasingly apparent. The compressed time period examined by the exhibition reveals the extensive range of Miró’s experimentation during these years and the many different types of art making he pursued in order to produce a body of work that defiantly refuses to add up. The persistent tension he maintained between abstraction and figuration, the radical and the traditional, formal mastery and aesthetic “murder,” is among his radical achievements.
The exhibition’s principal goal is to illuminate the particular and changing character of Miró’s challenge to painting during these years, a period of his work that is generally under-recognized and not well understood. This exhibition reunites works from long-separated series, including over 20 works never before seen in the United States. The Centre Pompidou, Paris, and the Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona, have each contributed a number of important loans to the exhibition, among them the Pompidou’s remarkable Portrait of a Dancer (1928), which has never been shown in the United States and which, for the first time since leaving Miró’s studio, will be reunited in this exhibition with the two other extant works from the artist’s series of Spanish Dancer collages.
The exhibition is organized to follow Miró’s practice of conceiving and executing his works in distinct series, adopting the artist’s own groupings and, in the case of those works that he dated by day, month, and year, reflecting the sequence of presentation that he determined. The installation is structured around 12 series created between 1927 and 1937, while working in Paris, Montroig (a rural village on the coast of Catalonia), and Barcelona. It begins with a 1927 group of works on unprimed canvas and concludes with 1937’s singular, hallucinatory painting, Still Life with Old Shoe, a work that establishes a historical endpoint for this decade-long period of experimentation. The tight chronological framework affords the opportunity to present individual series of works in sustained depth.
Constructions and Objects, 1930–32: Working in Montroig between August and November 1930, Miró created as many as 12 relief constructions, although only the two on view in this gallery are known to have survived. The following year he began to make small objects, including the six presented in this gallery, that frequently combine found materials with painted figures and passages of glued sand, juxtaposing real-world objects with imaginative images to create a richly volatile mix of painting and assemblage. Miró and the Surrealists pointedly referred to many of the three-dimensional works he made between 1931 and 1932 as objects, not sculptures, to underscore their distance from aesthetic conventions and norms. Wood panels and blocks recur frequently, both as defiant references to the tradition of painting on wood and as surfaces onto which objects are nailed or stapled.
Still Life with Old Shoe, 1937: Miró left Barcelona for Paris sometime before October 28, 1936. With the civil war in Spain advancing without a foreseeable end, he decided to remain in the French capital; his wife and daughter joined him in December. They would not return to Spain for four years. On January 12, 1937, Miró announced his intent to do “something absolutely different,” and abruptly returned to working from life—from the observation of an external model, of real objects arranged in space. The result was the incandescent, hallucinatory painting Still Life with Old Shoe, which marks a historical endpoint to the decade-long period presented in this exhibition. The painting is both a still life and a landscape, in which the irregular back edge of the tabletop can also be read as an undulating horizon line. Scale and perspective have been adjusted, so that the worn old shoe dwarfs the surrounding objects. The color is highly saturated and dissonant, and the objects seem to glow from within.
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