Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dear Diary, Today I Saw Some Art; or, Miró Miró on the Wall

My New School ID gets me and guest into the MoMA for free -that's the cash benefit for being my "friend".

If you were my friend, I could've saved you $20 on the Joan Miró exhibit.

Now, internet stranger, I will compensate by saving you the time and the money. My description, while it may not exceed being there, certainly surpasses the death-defying fight through Midtown tourists at holiday season.

The show features 12 series (and one individual piece) created between 1927 and 1937 -a time when Spain erupted into civil war and the artist fought to "destroy" painting.

The exhibit opens with eight "Paintings on Unprimed Canvas".

above: Painting (Head), 1927

So, I thought I liked Miró. This opening gallery is pretty weak. You can see why designers are attracted to his work -and animators. The pieces in the series look like they could be covers to paperback novels with the right type treatment.

The second gallery contains "Spanish Dancers".

Oh, there it is. Even though most in this are uninspiring, the above Spanish Dancer reveals' the artist's appeal.

It's far stylistically from what we expect from Miró [Hirondelle D'amour and The Hunter (Catalan Landscape) from the Museum's general collection fit the bill]. Beyond style, Spanish Dancer displays wit -distilling form into geometry using cork, a hatpin and a feather. This is what a dancer is, for sure.

One step more, Miró's work isn't about the shapes or the color. Those are design elements. Shape and color are media used to present what is essential to his work. Texture and proximity (or in art terms "juxtaposition") comprise the foundation of the work.

Three forms together make a dancer, the shape is incidental.

As the exhibit progresses to the next gallery, "Dutch Interiors and Imaginary Portraits" the painting begins resemble the work we associate with the artist.

above: Portrait of La Fornarina (1929) based on Raphael's La Fornarina.

Parts of Raphael's woman are reduced to abstraction and given meaning through their position on canvas.

Also of note in this gallery: the frame for Portrait of Queen Louise of Prussia. What an amazing frame.

The next few galleries are duds. This is a large exhibition.

One includes sculpture. "Constructions and Objects". Is this work any different from a river town Sunday artist? Do amoeba shapes and vermillion paint make a work more profound because we immediately identify them with an artist?

The sculpture does help elucidate the rest of Miró's work. There's value in that, making it an important part of the show.

The series which shows the artist's hand (holding the key to his work) is "Paintings Based on Collages".

This is why designer's love him -he worked just like them.

Starting from collage created from newspaper clippings, Miró organized the images in a form that made sense (read: juxtaposed). Using curves and color, he translated these mechanical figures into lifeforms. The color and application have grit, palpability.

Genesis from mechanics.

A couple more relatively uninteresting galleries follow - Pastels on Flocked Paper (yeck!), Drawing Collages, Paintings on Cardboard (O.K., just not particularly interesting).

One thing on "Drawing Collages" and also. The collage is, by nature, textured. The multiple sources of material and the application to a canvas create tactility. This is a shortcut that undercuts Miró's strength -his ability to create that feeling with brush stroke and mixing media with paint. As a technician his shape and line are sensuous -as a thinker he creates rough terrain for that sensuality to play on. "Paintings on Cardboard" incorporate textures into paint, rope for example. The concept is more successful than the collage, but the series doesn't wholly hang together.

The "Small Paintings on Masonite and Copper" demonstrate this skill.

Figures in the Presence of a Metamorphosis (above) is painted on masonite. This is a smooth surface. Smoother than canvas, smoother than cardboard, smoother than paper. It's flat, flat, flat.

Not only does his brush stroke work a texture onto a medium which fights it, he adds crushed pigment to the green to further the tactility.

This man and woman, as disfigure as they (and their genitals) may be, are meant to be real. They are representations of something you can touch. The texture, the tactility, are necessary tools to convey that meaning.

The shapes are sensual because they are "real".

"Paintings on Masonite" is the final gallery. It wraps up the show in a bow. It's a progression from the previous group and ties in to the first.

Miró's work is appealing, the color and shapes are pretty. At times he feels like a great illustrator. Like Ben Shahn or Steinberg. Or a sinuous Paul Rand. Underlying that appeal is a humanism, an ability to create the human from the abstract and narrow the human figure to is essential, sensual curves.


Liesje Kraai said...

Oooo... how long is the exhibit there? Maybe I can hold out till all the tourists have had their fill. You think I can borrow your ID though?

Jill Conner said...

You've totally sold me on the show! I'll have to go soon even if it means shoulder-beating my way to the museum.