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DESCRIPTIONJoan Miró. The Ladder of Escape // National Gallery Of Art // Washington DC (EUA) Del 06 de maig al 12 d’agost
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
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National Gallery of Art, Washington, Successi Mir/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New
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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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
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Page 1 of 3Joan Mir - The Ladder of Escape, at National Gallery - NYTimes.com
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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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
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