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Plunging into Joan Miro's constellation of women, birds, stars, suns and moons

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Joan Miro's
Joan Miro's "Woman with a Beautiful Hat, Star" (1978) / Courtesy of Successio Miro / ADAGP, Paris - SACK, Seoul, 2022

Survey of Spanish modernist's paintings, sculptures and drawings to run through September

By Park Han-sol

A painter who declared an "assassination of painting," an absolute denial of the established aesthetics celebrated among the bourgeoisie of the 1930s ― that was who Joan Miro (1893-1983) was.

Miro's dislike of bourgeois art was manifested in his lifelong attempts to plunge into spontaneous experimentation without limits, which came to hold strong influence and paved new roads of possibilities for later generations of pioneering creators.

A photo portrait of Spanish modernist Joan Miro with the unfinished
A photo portrait of Spanish modernist Joan Miro with the unfinished "The Port" (1945) behind him / Courtesy of Hereus de Joaquim Gomis, Fundacio Joan Miro, Barcelona 2022
While he brushed shoulders with cohorts of artists who forged the styles of Dada and surrealism, especially during his early years, it is difficult to identify him precisely within any particular artistic movement, as he dedicated his life to liberating himself from conventions and developing his own creative language.

His expressive use of colors with lively pictorial motifs gave birth to an intriguing constellation of women, birds, stars, suns, moons and ladders that float freely in a vast field of imagination.

"Joan Miro: Women, Birds, Stars" at My Art Museum in Gangnam District, southern Seoul, takes a dive into the quintessential Spanish modernist's hyper-visual ensemble of inventiveness and playful curiosity.

The exhibition brings together more than 70 paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints and tapestries produced from the later 40 years of his career ― all from the collection of Fundacio Joan Miro, a museum established by the artist himself in 1975 in his hometown of Barcelona.

Viewers are invited to immerse themselves in Miro's series of intense colorful forms, infinitesimal dots and free-willed scribbles inside the gallery. While all these elements are born from the artist's improvised strokes, they do not exist in a haphazard, chaotic manner. Rather, his visual vocabulary manages to achieve a poetic equilibrium between the familiar and the unknown.

Miro's "The Birds" (1956) / Courtesy of Successio Miro / ADAGP, Paris - SACK, Seoul, 2022

"In my paintings, there is a kind of circulatory system," he once said to Yvon Taillandier, a French artist and critic, in 1959. "If even one form is out of place, the circulation stops; the balance is broken."

One of the most prominent visual motifs in his works is birds. As opposed to snakes, which in Miro's eyes embodied the secular, as they twist and writhe on the surface of the Earth, birds have the ability to transcend such physical restrictions as they fly upward into the heavens. In other words, they can carry us into the world of fantasy and imagination that is not Earth-bound.

He calls another of his popular subjects, woman, not the "creature woman," but a "universe."

"Woman and Birds in a Landscape" (1970-74) / Courtesy of Successio Miro / ADAGP, Paris - SACK, Seoul, 2022

Such motifs represent the artist's distinctive cosmological vision that is evident in many of his works. His canvas and prints visualize the symbolic union of the earthly and the celestial worlds, with no horizon dividing them.

"Because there is no horizon line or any indication of depth, they shift in depth. They also move across the surface, because a color or a line leads inevitably to a change in the angle of vision," he told Taillandier.

"Inside the large forms there are small forms that move around. And when you look at the painting as a whole, the large forms also become mobile."

Miro's bronze sculpture
Miro's bronze sculpture "Personage" (1967) / Korea Times photo by Park Han-sol
His spirit of experimentation carried into sculptures during the 1950s and 1960s, when he put paintings aside for several years and devoted himself to ceramics as a way to overcome the limitations posed by the canvas and brush.

He started combining a variety of everyday objects ― items that he came across by accident inside his spacious studio or on his way to the beach or shops ― without premeditation, and cast them in bronze to give birth to a face, body or figure.

The only rule for his selection was that he needed to feel an inexplicable, magnetic force that drew him close to particular objects, with "their combination [creating] a poetic shock," as he mentioned in his letter to French American art dealer Pierre Matisse.

"Joan Miro: Women, Birds, Stars" runs through Sept. 12 at My Art Museum.


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