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Miró: the surreal life
By SHEILA WICKOUSKI
FOR THE FREE LANCE–STAR
“Joan Miró: The Ladder of Escape,” now on exhibit at the National Gallery of Art, focuses on 120 of Miró’s works, created over more than 50 years during one of the most turbulent times in European history.
Start with the surreal “The Farm,” one of his early works from the 1920s. The iconic work resonates with sunny Catalan summers at the country home of Miró’s parents. It is the work Ernest Hemingway borrowed money to buy—not for its literacy or as an investment but because “it has in it all that you feel about Spain when you are there and all that you feel when you are away and cannot go there.”
Miró is most often associated with such surreal fantasies—those delightful spirals and playful shapes, incongruous collections of human and animal forms, childlike yet alien—floating in space over the canvas like a dream, but there is no question that he was also firmly rooted to earth, with a strong sense of Spanish (specifically Catalan) identity.
“The Farm” is also the beginning of the artist’s approach to defining the language of painting, as he shifts from the provincial past to a dynamic present. Miró’s “new” language, created of forms and symbols, suggests a primal human system of communication. The horrors of war gave his work a sharp turn from pleasant surrealism to darkness, while still employing the language that can not be spoken.
The ladder, which appears throughout Miró’s works, is perhaps a symbol of the artist who climbs from reality to a higher level of heavenly imagination.
In “The Escape Ladder,” a painting from his “Constellations” series in the 1940s, the ladder assumes another layer of meaning. It offers a political reference to Miró’s self-imposed internal exile because of his passionate opposition to the fascist dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco following the Spanish Civil War.
The relationship between the painter’s identity and his political ideals is the unifying thread throughout this exhibit.
Art and fire like magical forces combine in the “Burnt Canvas” series from the 1970s at the end of the exhibit. Created by a careful process of cutting holes in the canvas and applying paint and petrol, the works were then fashioned by torch blows, (with a wet mop for control), exposing raw ugly holes.
Miró, who had redefined art, was now destroying works as part of the creation process. His point perhaps was an indictment of the international art market that has made art a commodity with a price, available for only the elite.
Someone has suggested that when looking at Miró’s works (like his mural paintings from 1962—those three large canvases in orange-yellow, green and red, with only two black dots in one corner) one soon forgets one is looking at art, and then one forgets one is even looking.
Miró shares the stage with internationally recognized fellow artists of his time and country—Gaudi, Picasso and Dali. Their legacy of revolutionary ideas on art and life that emphasize innovative treatments of new pictorial themes, transformed the medieval corner of the world where they were born into an epicenter of modern art.
The exhibit offers a meditation on how one man’s inner reactions to the the violent political revolution outside created a revolution within the art world.
WANT TO GO?
What: “Joan Miró: The Ladder of Escape”
Where: The National Gallery of Art and its Sculpture Garden, located on the National Mall, Washington. (Sole U.S. venue.)
When: Through Aug. 12.
Info: 202/ 737-4215; nga.gov
Sheila Wickouski, a former Fredericksburg resident, is a freelance reviewer for The Free Lance–Star.