“Painting or poetry is made as we make love,” said Joan Miro. His personages are hot- blooded, but they have a sense of decency: they do not like to be caught in the act. And so, even while we have been looking, the maiden has turned into a dog- or is it a mushroom?- and the star has extended into a ladder, leading from nowhere to nowhere.
“Find flowers that are chairs,” the French poet Arthur Rimbaud has asked. For Miro, this is no trouble at all. In his world, flowers turn into butterflies, butterflies into hens, hens into moons- provided they are not all these things at once. They are made of a rubberlike substance endowed with a gift of incessant metamorphosis. What is this gigantic monster? An amoeba. And this infinitesimal dot? A horse.
Though it would be cruelto ruin the naive pleasure people find in his fantastic universe of signs, it would be equally wrong to treat Miro as a decorative artist, a teller of lighthearted grotesque tales populated by strange configurations in vivid colors. He could paint the delightful such as “Harlequin Carnival” ; but also the eerie “Head of a Woman” of 1938, a huge and belligerent insect that calls Kafka’s Metamorphosis to mind. Miro’s work is not consistently cheerful and sunny; it is occasionally overclouded and uncannily magical and unpredictable.
What distinguishes Miro from the majority, including Paul Klee, to whom he owed much- is Miro’s ease and originality of invention. He did not need to work through any oppressive visual compulsions in order to arrive at the “second naivety” of the modern artist. Miro, like the artists of aboriginal cultures, drew on a universe of signs and symbols that was essentially inborn.
…The denizens of Miroland have another characteristic: their parts are removable and interchangeable. Miro wrought stranger miracles than the grafting of human organs. He could replace a kidney with a nose, a belly by a guitar, and a woman’s sexual organs by a trolley conductor’s purse. All his forms, even the smallest , are filled to the brim with life. At the drop of a hat or a falling star, they associate, interpenetrate, copulate, procreate at breath taking speed, and eat or are eaten in complete, rowdy anarchy- an anarchy so profuse and natural that it ends by imposing its own order.
All creatures and things are like a myriad of balloons let loose, or better, a “harlequin carnival” in the words of Miro. A carnival where all is not joy: in the crush, some unfortunate revelers explode, shedding cascades of blood that are immdeiately lapped up by the rest of the crowd. A grimace may mean either pain or pleasure. One never knows whether one is seeing a comedy or a drama. “Anyway, it amounts to the same thing,” says Miro. “Humor is always tragic.”
Laughter and torture stem from the same intense, exuberant, unalloyed source. It arises in a realm where sensitivity runs high but sentimentality is unknown. Its inhabitants do not have to sleep in order to dream. They belong to that age which is one without pity: the age of childhood.
For Miro’s universe is a cosmic children’s corner- on condition that we specify that it was created, not by adults for children, but by the children themselves. If anything, psychology has taught us that children do not resemble the edulcorated image grownups have of them. They are innocent, but only in that no sense of guilt accompanies their most improper acts; they are pure , but as undiluted alcohol or vitriol is pure. Just because it is so, it is suffused with eroticism and even sadism. Like children , too, Miro shuns the rational. He concludes alliances with creatures and things that share this trait ofliving up to the cold standards of the intellect: with dogs, cats, insects, and plants.
Miro shares the child’s disregard for proper proportions and relative importance: details that interest him loom large, while elements to which he is indifferent shrink or disappear altogether. Naturally, the organs by which we satisfy our various senses occupy a preponderant place in his pictures. No shadow falls between the desire and the realization, between dream and reality, between sky and earth, between night and day.
Freud’s development of psychoanalysis, and his discovery of the Unconscious, brought about a revolution in art and culture in the early part of the 20th century. It “extended the idea that the world of the individual went beyond the obvious, the visible or the tangible. There was now a world of the subconscious to be considered, a world of dreams, alternate reality, and irrationality. This world became a fabulous mine for many artists.” [external link Art – Colonialism] These themes were explored in the Wikipedia link Surrealist movement developed by the writer external link Andre Breton (see his external link Surrealist Manifesto of 1924), and further developed through artists like external link René Magritte, external link Joan Miró, external link Max Ernst, external link Salvador Dalí, external link Man Ray, and many others.
Peter Schjeldahl:The show ends with a one-off coda: MOMA’s own “Still Life with Old Shoe” (1937), a smoldering composition—in hellishly acidic colors, like lethal inflammations, and coal black—of a shoe, a fork stuck in a shrunken apple, a crust of bread, and a gin bottle wrapped in paper, all on a table that reads as a prairie, in fleeing depth, under an angry sky. “Old Shoe” commenced a return, for Miró, to painting from life, after his experimental adventures. It is commonly regarded as the artist’s response to the horrors of the Spanish Civil War, and perhaps to his countryman Picasso’s “Guernica.” As such, it fails, evincing a potent pictorial rhetoric that might have well served a painter who, unlike Miró, had something to say, beyond indicating a bad mood. Miró was an art-for-art’s-sake innocent, first and last. In contrast to Picasso and Matisse, he gives remarkably little sign of experienced life in his works, as lively as they may be. His symbols of sex suggest prepubescent, wild guesses at what adults get so steamed up about. (Miró had one wife, Pilar Juncosa, on whom he seems to have depended heavily; they had one child, Dolores.) “Old Shoe” aside, his art—given, after 1937, to often strong styles in abstract painting and rather weak styles in sculpture, ceramics, and tapestry—generates no human drama beyond the range of a circus act. This was no disadvantage to Miró’s reputation in the days and ways of high modernism, which exalted formal originality as gripping enough, in and of itself. Today, the diminishing returns of innumerable innovations later, many of us have come to rank values of meaning above those of brilliance. So, yes, the fault of Miró’s vitiated appeal is his, though I believe that I speak for a consensus in declaring that he is forgiven.