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Joan Miró. The Ladder of Escape // National Gallery Of Art // Washington DC (EUA) Del 06 de maig al 12 d’agost

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  • The artistry of Joan MiroJuly 1, 2012 7:04 AMSpanish painter Joan Miro (1893-1983) changed styles every few years, challenging the conventions of art. Rita Braver reports on a new museum exhibit celebrating Miro's long and storied career.

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    Page 2 of 7The artistry of Joan Miro - CBS News Video

    23/08/2012http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7413462n&tag=showDoorFlexGridLeft;fl...

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    National Gallery of Art, Washington, Successi Mir/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New

    York/ADAGP, Paris

    The Farm (1921-1922), part of the National Gallerys Joan Mir: The Ladder of Escape, which explores politics in Mirs art.

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    ART REVIEW

    Filtering Mirs Work Through a Political SieveJoan Mir: The Ladder of Escape, at National Gallery

    By KEN JOHNSONPublished: August 2, 2012

    WASHINGTON Was Joan Mir a political artist? A much-beloved

    Surrealist, he is not commonly thought of as such. On its face, his

    oeuvre appears remarkably apolitical, especially considering that he

    lived through two world wars and a murderous civil war in his

    homeland, Spain. From the hallucinogenic vision of The Farm in

    the 1920s to his mural-scale fields of color punctuated by wispy signs

    in the 1960s, evidence of worldly political engagement is hard to find.

    A reluctant joiner and manifesto signer, Mir (1893-1983) disliked

    Social Realism. The artists of the past who inspired him were mystic

    visionaries like Hieronymus Bosch and William Blake.

    This poses a problem for the many

    scholars and critics of today who tend

    to judge art on ethical grounds. The solution for ideological

    interrogators, then, would be either to dismiss Mir as a

    bourgeois escapist or to discover political convictions

    underlying the seemingly innocuous surfaces of his works.

    This second option is what the organizers of Joan Mir:

    The Ladder of Escape at the National Gallery of Art have

    determined to pursue. On that score the show is a muddled

    effort. Fortunately, this does not detract from the

    approximately 160 works dating from 1917 to 1974 on view.

    It is a beautiful and exciting show.

    But for those who pay attention to wall texts and catalog

    essays, it is a different story. Marko Daniel and Matthew

    Gale, curators at the Tate Modern in London who organized

    the exhibition in collaboration with Teresa Montaner, a

    curator at the Fundaci Joan Mir in Barcelona, contend

    that at certain crucial times in his life Mir did express

    passionately held political concerns, albeit in coded and not

    obviously illustrative ways.

    They see Catalonian nationalism in his early proto-Magic

    Realist landscapes and in his more abstract images of the

    Catalan peasant-hunter. Later they find him to be an enemy

    of Fascism during the Spanish Civil War and World War II.

    In the postwar years under the Franco dictatorship, he was

    a mostly passive resister, unknown in Spain outside of a

    small circle of friends and supporters, even as he was being

    celebrated in exhibitions elsewhere around the world.

    How well do Mirs actual works support claims of a

    politicized Mir? Not very. Consider his breakout series of

    landscapes of the late teens and early 1920s, culminating in

    The Farm (1921-22). In his essay about these stunning

    paintings, the art historian Robert S. Lubar declares that

    Mirs mission was to link his vision of an essential

    Catalonia with the promise of an emergent nation that

    hoped to participate on the world stage as an equal

    partner.

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    Page 1 of 3Joan Mir - The Ladder of Escape, at National Gallery - NYTimes.com

    24/08/2012http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/03/arts/design/joan-miro-the-ladder-of-escape-at-na...

  • Collection of Samuel and Ronnie Heyman, New York, Successi Mir/Artists Rights Society

    (ARS), New York, ADAGP, Paris

    Portrait IV (1938), part of the National Gallerys Joan Mir: The Ladder of Escape."

    A version of this review appeared in print on August 3, 2012, on page C28 of the National edition with the headline: Filtering Mirs Work Through a Political Sieve.

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    Miro, Joan

    This just does not sound right. Mir was a Barcelona city

    boy. His parents bought the house in Montroig in 1911,

    when he was in his late teens, for summer vacations.

    Moreover, romancing rural life is standard fare in art of the

    19th and early 20th centuries. Gauguin, van Gogh, Czanne

    and countless others contributed to that tradition.

    What distinguishes The Farm is its nearly hallucinatory crystallization of the old

    buildings, the spindly central tree and the animals, plants and objects neatly distributed

    around the grounds. It is as if we were seeing through the eyes of a saint in a state of

    spiritual transport. That this Edenlike scene happens to be in Catalonia rather than, say,

    Normandy, is incidental.

    Viewed through a political lens, the Catalan peasant and hunter the comical pipe-

    smoking, gun-toting, bearded stick figure who appears in zanily Surrealistic landscapes of

    the 1920s may be a personification of Catalan pride. But he is easier to read as Mirs

    own avatar, a tracker of signs of cosmic life in the landscapes of his own imagination.

    Near the end of the 1930s, Mir revisited the realism of The Farm, and he produced a

    masterpiece: Still Life With Old Shoe (1937). Struck by the image of the fork stabbing a

    dried apple and the ominously flowing areas of blackness, critics have read the painting as

    an allegory about the Spanish Civil War, calling it his Guernica. What is immediately

    captivating about it, though, is how the rustic objects seem to glow numinously from

    within. It is an image of supernatural immanence in the humblest of circumstances.

    Making a political case for Mirs later work is a harder sell yet, as he turned increasingly

    to abstraction during and after the war. There is more comedy than tragedy in the

    cavorting hieroglyphic characters and hectic narratives of the wonderful Constellations

    series of 1939-41.

    A renowned public figure in his last decades, Mir was given to occasional political

    gestures, like creating posters for liberal causes and a splattered and dripped painting

    called Mai 68, commemorating the youthful revolutions in Paris of the late 60s. In

    paintings that he cut holes in and burned with a torch in the early 70s, he implicitly

    equated the violation of aesthetic norms with sociopolitical protest, but by then such Dada-

    like provocations were old hat.

    In a 1936 letter to his dealer, Pierre Matisse, Mir wrote that he would plunge in again

    and set out on the discovery of a profound and objective reality of things, a reality that is

    neither superficial nor Surrealistic, but a deep poetic reality, an extrapictorial reality, if you

    will, in spite of pictorial and realistic appearances.

    Mir believed in a reality transcending that of the material world: a place between infinite

    spirit and finite Creation. It is to this realm of imagination that the ladder recurring in

    many of his paintings leads: to a place inhabited by metaphysical life-forms and mind-

    stretching symbols, whose hallucinatory presences may convey truths that elude everyday

    consciousness.

    But ladders go both ways. They can be a means of escape from worldly woes, but they also

    may lead the visionary prophet back down to earth, where he may try to get people to

    become better