Thursday, September 25, 2014

'From Miró to Barcelona' exhibition traces the Catalan artist's legacy to his hometown

The Joan Miró Foundation, a museum of modern art honouring the famous
Catalan artist, hosts the exhibition 'De Miró a Barcelona' ('From Miró to Barcelona'). The display focuses on 4 art works that Miró wanted to donate to the city of Barcelona: the Airport Mural, the Mosaic at the Pla de l’Os in Les Rambles, a sculpture for the Parc de Cervantes (which ended up in Chicago), and the Joan Miró Foundation. With these donations, the artist wanted to welcome people arriving in Barcelona by land, sea and air, and to promote the role of art in everyday life. The display brings together a collection of preparatory sketches, drawings, models, photographs and videos related to these works. Curated by the Director of the Foundation, Rosa Maria Malet, the exhibition aims to draw attention to Miró's legacy to the city of Barcelona, starting from the late 1960s, and offers a reflection on his commitment to contemporary art. The display is taking place from the 9th of May to the 2nd of November 2014 in the Joan Miró Foundation, an impressive white building designed by Josep Lluis Sert and located on the Montjuic hill. In accordance with the Catalan artist's wish to offer these 4 works to the city of Barcelona, the exhibition is free of charge.


The Joan Miró Foundation, devoted to the Barcelona-born, world famous Catalan painter, sculptor and ceramic artist, hosts the exhibition 'De Miró a Barcelona' (From Miró to Barcelona).

The display aims to illustrate the artist's close connection to the city of Barcelona while analysing the historical and social context that motivated him to offer these ''gifts'' to the public areas in the Catalan capital. Sketches, preparatory paintings, models, photographs and videos of the 4 projects are displayed and help the visitor to understand Miró's creative process and mind that inspired these urban designs.

A display highlighting Miró's strong ties to Barcelona

Miró's ties to Catalonia have always been evident. Even though he lived in Paris for a few years and spent his last days in Palma de Mallorca, he always remained deeply rooted to his homeland. This is seen in illustrations of Mont-roig, the village in Tarragona where he spent holidays as a boy and where he returned as an adult in the summer.. For instance The Farm, one of Miró’s iconic paintings, a surrealist depiction of his family home in Mont-roig, surrounded by Catalan landscapes. However, Miró had a particularly strong connection to his birthplace Barcelona, where his legacy is to be seen throughout the city.

According to The Director of the Foundation, Rosa Maria Malet, the main reason for this link is that Miró was born in the Catalan capital and spent his childhood and youth there. Barcelona was the place where he discovered at a very young age the painting of the masters of Romanesque style churches of the Catalan Pyrenees. He completed his education at the School of Industrial and Fine Arts La Llotja, attended drawing classes at Sant Lluc art academy, had his first solo exhibition at the Dalmau galleries, and ''Barcelona was where he was formed as an artist and a person,'' pointed out Malet. ''All these links never break and never end,'' she emphasised.

In the texts of the exhibition catalogue, the journalist Lluís Permanyer (a local celebrity for his chronicles about Barcelona's history and architecture) remembers the moment when Miró revealed his intention to design and donate these 4 projects for Barcelona. The Director of the Joan Miró Foundation explained that the artist decided to offer these ''gifts'' when he had his large exhibition at the Antic Hospital de la Santa Creu in Barcelona in 1968.

Miró had travelled extensively, not just Europe, but also the United States and Japan, and was familiar with other backgrounds and cultures across the world. However, at that time Miró considered there was a special atmosphere and social context in Barcelona. The artist appreciated the rhythm of the Catalan capital, which made him more active and dynamic, due to the character of its people, and that always interested and excited Miró. ''He felt there was a need to represent the young audience of people, who at that time were living in the city either studying at university, or those who were struggling to get out of adverse political circumstances", in the middle of Franco's dictatorship. Malet emphasised that if instead Miró had observed a passive attitude and people not interested in current events, he would probably not have felt the need for engaging himself in such a long-term project.

In addition, due to war circumstances during World War II, some of the activities that had traditionally been developed in Paris, could not take place anymore and it was in Barcelona where a lot of French and impressionist painting exhibitions were being held. Even if at that time Miró considered Barcelona as ''a small and closed town,'' nevertheless, it was a place where news and information, mainly from France, came through different means.

For Miró, art was inseparable from politics, and his works frequently expressed his own sentiments in a subtle way, such as in the series of grotesque puppets known as Merma, a reaction against Franco's dictatorial regime, among others. He once said, ''Liberty of expression in art is the same as liberty of expression in ideas.'' The four projects that Miró aimed to donate to his hometown were all created during Franco's fascist military regime and reflect ideas of freedom. The artist held onto his identity as a Catalan and shared a deep-rooted sense of his wider commitment to human liberty and the transformative role of art as an expression of solidarity.

Miró's works in public spaces, creating dialogue between art and people

Turning away from accepted notions of art and not conforming to any norm or standard, Miró brought his inimitable style of fantasy and modernity to four works in Barcelona's public areas. In the exhibition catalogue, the philosopher Josep Ramoneda offers a reflection on Miró's dedication to contemporary art and on the concept and value of art in public space. According to Malet, Miró considered that art should not be something private, only reserved for churches, palaces or privileged people. On the contrary, he shared the vision of making cities more open with art more accessible. ''Miró wanted to show that the artwork should interfere in the lives of all the people, it should be accessible to everyone; is there a better way to achieve it than to place art in the public spaces?'' The artist’s intention was to welcome people arriving in Barcelona by land, sea and air, and to promote art intervention in everyday life.

Malet remarked that in some documents, press and in the exhibition it is possible to see that the works had not been received without some controversy. ''We realize that there is some kind of irony or joke about some of these works.'' However, she maintained that the works' positive aspects prevailed.

The Airport Mural

Joan Miró's first work for public space was the Airport Mural, which was commissioned by the Barcelona City Council in 1968 during the exhibition Miró, held in the Antic Hospital de la Santa Creu with the intention to open the city to the outside world. The work was created with the help of Miró's friend, the ceramicist Josep Llorens Artigas. 10 metres high and 50 metres long, made of Miró's characteristic brightly coloured ceramic tiles, it covers the façade of the current Terminal 2 in Barcelona El Prat Airport, which at the time the only one. Today the impressive mosaic still welcomes visitors to the city.

The sculpture for the Parc de Cervantes

This monumental sculpture initially commissioned for the city of Chicago, was designed by Miró and Artigas. When the project was delayed due to the lack of funds, Miró offered the sculpture to the Parc de Cervantes in Barcelona's Diagonal Avenue, as a gift for people coming to the city by road. In the end, the imposing figure did not appear in the Catalan capital and the project was taken up again by the Chicago City Council. However, the model for this sculpture, later named Miss Chicago, was kept and is now located in the North Patio of Barcelona's Miró Foundation as a symbol of the institution.

The Mosaic in the Pla de l'Ós

The visitors who stroll down Les Rambles, the city's most famous promenade, which leads down to the port, walk continually over the large and colourful pavement mosaic by Joan Miró in the Pla de l’Ós. Unveiled in 1976, it was created as a welcoming gesture to people arriving to Barcelona by sea. Miró knew that place well as it was located close to number 4, Passatge del Crèdit, the house in which he was born in 1893.

The pavement Mosaic at the Pla de l´Ós in Les Rambles presented a creative challenge for Miró since it was his first work over which people could walk. When Miró had this idea, he knew that Les Rambles had been a passage for centuries: the path that opened up the old town, both a walkway to the sea and an area of commerce. ''For precisely these reasons Miró understood that if the artwork was placed on the ground in public area, there should not be protection all around and people should not look at it in distance,'' pointed out Malet. On the contrary, he wanted people to walk over it and in this way, perhaps unconsciously; the artwork would enter the lives of all around.

The Joan Miró Foundation

Miró´s most significant contribution to Barcelona is the Joan Miró Foundation, an artwork in itself, which was opened in 1975. According to Malet, Miró wanted somewhere that would encourage young artists and promote experimentation, rather than a monument to himself. The contemporary eye-catching building was designed by a famous Catalan architect and a close friend of Miró, Josep Lluís Sert and later it was expanded by another Catalan architect, Jaume Freixa. 

Malet highlighted that ''from the early beginning there was a really close relation and the attitude of cooperation between the Joan Miró Foundation and the city of Barcelona, and throughout the years, it has not changed.'' Despite Miró's decision to create the Foundation during Franco's regime, the City Council was open and helpful, providing all that was needed to carry out the project.

Built on land provided by the City Council in the Parc de Montjuïc, the foundation offers the greatest insight into Miró's artwork in Barcelona: paintings, sculptures, tapestries, and ceramics. In addition, it hosts a wide range of contemporary art displays, including avant-garde and the latest artistic trends. It also has a pioneering exhibition space, Espai 13, which promotes research and experimentation among new artists.

The sculpture for the Parc de l’Escorxador

His last work for the Barcelona public, which however, does not form part of the 4 donations to his home city, was the spectacular sculpture Woman and Bird. It was created in collaboration with Joan Gardy Artigas, also known as Joan Llorens i Gardy, and is located in the park currently known as Joan Miró's (previously known as the Parc de l'Escorxador). A vertical statue covered with ceramic shards, it shows distinctive elements of the artist's iconographic universe, such as femininity and birds. 

More exhibitions to follow

Next year the Joan Miró Foundation will celebrate its 40th anniversary with exhibitions to mark the occasion. ''On the one hand, it seems interesting to remind or inform those people, who at that time were very young or even did not exist, about the creation of the foundation and how it has developed over years,'' said Malet. ''The best way is to start with the beginning, explain the context and how it emerged.'' Malet also pointed out that this exhibition should inspire other small displays, using the extensive artistic and documentary collection preserved at the institution, including preparatory sketches, notes, working cards and correspondence. ''There are lots of topics related to Miró's work, which can be studied thanks to this documentary collection.''

An artist whose presence is still felt

Inspired from within, Miró created an explosion of creativity using a variety of methods and developed a unique visual language and independent attitude which sustained him throughout his artistic journey. ''I am lucky to have known him personally and I can assure he was not distant from society and other people,'' said the Director of the Foundation. On the contrary, he was simple and generous. Miró's main intention was to make the city of Barcelona lively, active and colourful, and ''I think that was accomplished by his works,'' concluded Malet.

Neringa Sinkeviciute

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