Miró. Painting as Poetry
Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen
Grabbeplatz 5, 40213 Düsseldorf, Germany

Famous for his enigmatic symbols, dancing celestial bodies, and playful figures, Joan Miró (1893—1983) is among the most inventive and beloved artists of the 20th century. Under the surface, Miró’s seemingly lightheartedness image world conceals intensive reflections on painting and its possibilities.

To date, little is known about Miró’s lifelong interest in literature and poetry or his friendships with major authors of this time. For the first time ever, the exhibition, organized in collaboration with the Bucerius Kunst Forum in Hamburg, illuminates Miró’s relationship to poetry in a comprehensive way. The presentation deals with the relationship between word and image and the uses of text in classical modernism. Approximately 110 paintings, drawings, and artist’s books from all creative periods are supplemented by numerous objects from Miró’s private library, which has been reconstructed as a reading room. Renowned public and private collections in Europe and the United States are supporting this exhibition with generous loans.

Miró was a passionate reader whose favorites ranged from the classics of world literature to the late-19th century Symbolist poets and the contemporary avantgarde. Even during his early years as a young painter in his hometown of Barcelona, reading fueled his sense of fantasy. In his pictures, he often quoted specific titles (i.e. of books by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe or Jean Cocteau), and he once integrated the title page of the magazine Nord-Sud, launched in 1917 by Pierre Reverdy and Guillaume Apollinaire, into a painting of the same name.

With his move to Paris in the early 1920s, the 27-yearold Miró gained admission to the literary circle that was influenced by Dada. The group’s poets strove to liberate language from the constraints of syntax, sound, and meaning, and attacked rationalism as a form of provocation. A number of the most important literary figures of the 20th century, including Tristan  Tzara, Paul Éluard, Max Jacob, Robert Desnos, and André Breton, became Miró’s friends. Exchanges of ideas with poets  influenced Miró even more than contacts with his Parisian artist colleagues. From their ideas, he drew inspiration for his approach to painting, which led toward an artistic breakthrough in 1923. Depictions of reality yielded now to the fantastical. Beginning in the mid-1920s, in a series of picture poems, image and word merged to shape multifaceted associations. Miró saw himself as a “painter poet” who made no distinction between the two art forms. Although he felt connected to Surrealism, he consistently maintained his artistic independence.

Miró’s reception of literature was by no means one-sided. Just as he was inspired by literature, his pictures supplied writers with creative impulses. Ernest Hemingway was among Miró’s first admirers and collectors. In the magazine Documents in 1929, Michel Leiris published a text on Miró’s paintings, which he related to philosophical reflections on emptiness. Poet friends supplied titles for Miró’s works. Collaborative projects with writers resulted in more than 250 elaborately designed artist’s books in which text and image coexist on equal terms. Through direct exchanges with poets and publishers, Miró produced many of the most beautiful artist’s books of the 20th century.

During the second half of his life, Miró’s motifs evolved increasingly toward symbolic and script-based forms. These hieroglyphic figures, however, are never interpretable with precision, and precisely this allows them to develop a universal potential. At the same time, many of Miró’s works give critical expression to his opposition to European fascism – in particular Francisco Franco’s regime in Spain. As a staunch Catalonian, he championed the preservation of his culture, and expressed solidarity with the student movement in 1968. On Mallorca, where he settled in 1956, Miró produced late works characterized by impulsiveness and aggression. Cipher-like letters and numerals resemble slogans on the banners of demonstrators; grotesque figures raise their arms in protest. Influenced by his travels to Japan and contacts with the Abstract Expressionists in the US, Miró integrated both passionate gestures and calligraphy into his paintings, as well as a concentration on the essential that was inspired by Zen.

The exhibition Miró. Painting as Poetry offers a fresh look at Joan Miró’s oeuvre. The multifaceted influence of poetry provides unexpected insights into the artistic achievements of the best-known Spanish modern artist next to Picasso.



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