Miró Personnage 1967
painted bronze, 85 3/8 x 18 ½ x 15 3/8 inches
Collection of the Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona
Miró Femme assise et enfant 1967
painted bronze, 48 3/8 x 15 3/8 x 15¾ inches
Collection of the Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona
Miró Projet pour un monument 1972
plaster, 20 1/8 x 15 1/8 x 9 7/8 inches
Aquavella Modern Art, New York
Miró Jeune fille s'évadent 1968
painted bronze, 85 x 19 5/8 x 22 inches
Collection of the Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona
Miró Untitled Drawing February 1, 1965
ballpoint pen on paper, 7 7/8 x 5 7/8 inches
Collection of the Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró, Mallorca
According to André
Breton, Miró loved painting too much. What the Pope of Surrealism
meant by this anathema is that Miró was an aesthete, and therefore
not, by nature, a true revolutionary. There may have been something in
this indictment. On one occasion, the Surrealists were ordered to shout
incendiary statements during a political demonstration. Gathering after
the event to compare notes, Miró was asked what he had shouted.
"Down with the Mediterranean!", he replied.
But Miró was capable
of quiet acts of subversion: his art, gentle and joyous by definition,
is equally marked by an earthy, Rabelasian wit. Nowhere is this more
apparent than in his sculptures, currently on view at the Salvador Dali
Museum, St Petersburg, Florida.
And however meticulous and
stylized his aesthetic, Miró disavowed any notion of art for
art's sake. His art could veer towards abstraction, but he refused membership
of the avantgarde grouping, Abstraction-Creation, to which such friends
as Calder and Arp belonged, because of an insistence that art needed
to be engaged with life to have meaning. Sculpture literally grounded
Miró. In his appropriation and transformation of found objects
he insisted on art's connection with reality, even if the level of reality
he explored was metaphysical rather than empirical.
output is concentrated in the later part of his career, when he was
an international star, an institution. Sculptures, murals, ceramics,
and reliefs were synonymous with public commissions rather than private
expression. In Miró's case, the three-dimensional implies a desire
to go beyond the easel in search of new audiences. Sculpture also recalls
an uncharacteristic moment of iconoclasm from his days as a signed-up
Surrealist, when he declared it his aim "to assassinate painting".
The form this assassination took in 1928-9, when he briefly abandoned
oil paint or tempera, was collage. Effectively, the sculptures from
later in his career were a resumption of the collage impulse, albeit
that he chose to realise that impulse through tradition sculptural means
(bronze casting for instance) rather than unmediated assemblage.
But even as a sculptor, in
transpires, Miró loved painting too much. In a small sub-oeuvre
he took color and the brush to his plasters and bronzes. The Shape of
Color: Joan Miró's Painted Sculpture gathers a dozen examples
with many related drawings, while the accompanying book, published by
Scala, documents 27 painted sculptures. William Jeffett, co-curator
of the exhibition and a leading expert on Miró sculpture, estimates
that the painted sculptures constitute around ten per cent of his sculptural
output (not counting ceramics) of around 300 pieces. Color has the effect
of enforcing a connection between the Miró as sculptor and painter;
it also, ironically, subverts the otherness of sculpture, rendering
volumes as surfaces and neutralizing the particular materials out of
which the objects are crafted, be that bronze, concrete or plaster.
Ever the assassin, Miró stabs sculpture in the back with his
output was a redux of an earlier surrealist strategy, the discovery
of the marvelous through incongruous juxtaposition of commonplace objects.
Typically, a Miró bronze brought together things that had been
lying around his studios, in Majorca or Barcelona, maybe for many years.
(The works in concrete and synthetic materials, by contrast, are "original",
freely modeled forms.) Personnage, 1967, as an example of a painted
bronze cast from found objects, assembles a rake, the lid of a wheat
cannister, and a chopping block. The rusticity of these objects also
puts us back into the depictive world of early paintings like The Farm,
1921-22, or The Ploughed Field, 1923-24. But Mirós's paintings
of his late period, unlike their contemporaneous sculptures, had moved
beyond "chance encounters" to a more poetic symbolism whose
lexicon comprised stars, birds, flowers, clouds, faces, words, et cetera.
There is a substantial distinction, therefore, between Miró's
sculptural and painterly languages in this period; or rather, better
to say, the mediums drew on different dialects.
On the subject of language,
a key aspect of color in Miró's sculpture is the clarification
of syntax. In semiotic terms, color serves to isolate the predicates.
One might have expected an opposite use of color, to meld the disperate
objects into a new totality; or to offer an alternative image running
in counterpoint to the volumetric support. After all, the assemblages
are clearly enough made up of separate objects. Femme assise et enfant,
1967, for instance, has a common chair with a red pebble, to denote
the child, sitting on its green seat/lap, while the mother's head is
a "Miróesque" abstract wobbly disk in blue with a clump
to denote the what is perhaps the nose, in red. Where deviant colors
are allowed within a single object, such as the three yellow slats in
the back of the chair or the green seat, the sub-objects are, so to
speak, objects within objects anyway. Depictively, the green and the
yellow challenge the assumption that the chair itself is part of mother,
and that rather, mother (in a green skirt and a yellow blouse) is sitting
on the black chair.
A photograph of Miró
holding together the raw components of Personnage, 1967, already discussed,
demonstrates the losses and gains involved in the transformation of
source materials first into bronze and then into strident, primary,
full-gloss color. The colors of Miró's painted bronzes are very
striking, especially when viewed as they so often are out of doors under
the Spanish sun. He left instructions for his sculptures to be repainted
and favored brilliant factory colors, so there is not even the possibility
of the works taming with the passage of time. The sense of authenticity,
the rust, so to speak, in rusticity, is discarded. In its place comes
a bright, child-like quality (Miró was an avid collector of siurells,
the Majorcan painted figurine whistles, a suggestive source of color
in sculpture) and a genuine abstractness. There is added ambiguity in
a painted Miró, as we are in the presence of something at once
earthy and other worldly, primitive and sophisticated, raw and cooked.
Several works in this show
are maquettes for larger prospective "monuments", as he called
his public commissions. These are made in plaster, with concrete in mind
as the eventual medium, and are keenly informed by his work in ceramic.
Here the relationship of color to form is entirely different from that
in the bronzes. The rough texture is a support for painted shapes and
patterns, although, as Projet pour un monument, 1972-79 demonstrates,
there is still the desire to accent distinct body parts, in this case
ears and horn-like arms. The colored or painted resin pieces are, semiotically-speaking,
somewhere between the painted bronzes and the monuments; like the bronzes,
color relates to isolated objects and part-objects, but like the monuments,
volumes are more organic, and created ex nihilo.
The clue to Miró's need
to transform certain sculptures through color may have to do with the
lapse of time between finding the component objects and the act of bringing
them together. Color, in other words, marks a new round of creativity
in a protracted process. As mentioned, The Shape of Color brings together
fourteen sculptures with an abundance of supporting drawings and documentary
materials. The drawings, from the two Miró foundations in Barcelona
and Majorca respectively, have not been seen before in the United States.
They are, for the most part, working sketches, not presentation pieces,
and many appear on crude materials like old calendars and backs of envelopes.
Often they are accompanied by handwritten notes, whether to himself, the
foundrymen, or his assistants. Initially, there is an exciting sense of
being let in on the creative process, but the drawings are rarely very
satisying in themselves, and are ultimately of marginal consequence. Often
they are more diagrammatic than expressive. It is also questionable as
to what stage they occupy in the evolution of works. In the suite of sketches
that complement Jeune fille s'évadant, for instance, the legs of
the gormless woman on the page are crude and spindly, a far cry from the
voluptuous legs of the sculpture; little in the drawing suggests that
the act of drawing itself generated such an erotic impulse or prompted
him to look for a mannequin. What seems more likely is that he had found
the mannequin already and was doodling to find workable combinations.
Within the drawing, which is purely functional, there was no need to make
the legs sexy.
Another surprise in the drawings
is that there is remarkably little color, and where there is its correspondence
with the intensities and hues chosen is tangential. There is no instance
where color seems to generate form, making of color something of an afterthought.
Rather than find this disappointing, however, one could find it encouraging
because it shows how Miró's color was spontaneous and responsive
to the sculptural forms, rather than to preconceived ideas. By not being
integral, color is the more luxurious.
The Shape of Color: Joan
Miró Painted Sculpture
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC, September 21, 2002-January 6,
2003; Salvador Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida, February 1-May 4,
2003. Catalogue by Laura Coyle, William Jeffett, Joan Punyet Miró,
published by Scala and Corcoran
This article appears by kind
permission of Sculpture Magazine
where a different version is due for publication