Friday, June 22, 2012

On Display: Miró’s “The Ladder of Escape”

A few weeks ago, I popped into the National Gallery for the Joan Miró exhibit, “The Ladder of Escape.” Comprised of about 120 works, the show depicts the political side of Miró’s career. It starts out with whimsical and animated landscapes of life in Catalonia, Spain, with a focus on farms and portraits of the Catalan peasant. Then, with the coming of the depression and the Spanish Civil War, the colors of his work turn dark with black shapes and collages of newspapers, stamps and other cutouts. As I learned at the exhibit, during this time Miró decided to “assassinate painting” and turn to “savage pastels.” Having studied Spanish Art History in Spain and having viewed Picasso’s “Guernica,” I was interested to learn that Miró also participated in the Paris International Exposition in 1937 with a piece that has been informally named “The Reaper.” In the midst of the Spanish Civil War, artists from Spain saw the Exposition as a way to gain international support for the Spanish Republican government that was being suppressed by Franco’s regime. Miró’s work (formally named “Catalan Peasant in Revolt”) was grand and depicted a Catalan peasant wielding a sickle to fight fascism. It was hung near Picasso’s “Guernica” and I can only imagine what it must have been like to stand beneath these two overwhelming, theatrical works. Unfortunately, “The Reaper” was lost as the Exposition pavilion was broken down, but photos remain of Miró’s creation of the piece.

Despite the power and emotion that is evoked by his strong political works, the highlight of the exhibit for me was the series of “Constellations.” Created from 1940 to 1941, these provided a sense of escape for Miró and are a brilliant collection of fine lines, shapes, and stunning colors. I spent much of my time admiring the detail and spark of these paintings.

The rest of the exhibit moves to Miró’s later career with the “Barcelona Series” (cartoon-like sketches that seem to have influenced Ralph Steadman) and bold, colorful murals. Though the exhibit displays the variety of themes present in Miró’s career, there is a common unity in the playful nature of his works that sticks with you throughout the show.

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