20th-Century Giant Joan Miró At Seattle Art Museum

Mar 13, 2014

"Woman, Bird and Star (Homage to Picasso)," February 15, 1966/April 3-8, 1973. By Joan Miró, Spanish, 1893-1983.
"Woman, Bird and Star (Homage to Picasso)," February 15, 1966/April 3-8, 1973. By Joan Miró, Spanish, 1893-1983.
Credit Successió Miró/Artists Rights Society

Seattle Art Museum contemporary and modern art curator Catharina Manchanda calls Joan Miró one of the great avant-garde artists of the 20th century. But audiences on the West Coast of the United States have never had a chance to see a comprehensive exhibition of Miró's art, until now.

Figure and Bird, 1968, Joan Miró, Spanish, 1893-1983,
Figure and Bird, 1968, Joan Miró, Spanish, 1893-1983,
Credit Successió Miró/Artists Rights Society

Seattle Art Museum is currently presenting "Miró: The Experience of Seeing," organized with curators from Spain's national art museum, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. The show presents paintings, drawings and sculpture from the latter part of Miró's life, all borrowed from the Reina Sofia collection.

Miró was born in Barcelona, but he really got his start in Paris in the 1920s. Manchanda says one of the first people Miró sought out was fellow Spaniard Pablo Picasso. Before long, the young Miró was caught up in the nascent Surrealism movement.

"It was so diverse," explains Manchanda. "Surrealism was very much influenced by ideas coming from writing and poetry. And the idea that the visible world in front of us is secondary to an imaginary world, as well as the world of dreams."

"Women and Bird in the Night," 1974.
"Women and Bird in the Night," 1974.
Credit Successió Miró/Artists Rights Society

Looking around the Seattle Art Museum galleries at Miró's large, colorful paintings, you understand what Manchanda is talking about. The artworks have very specific titles, but you have to look long and hard at the work to see the images Miró refers to.

One painting, "Woman and Bird in the Night," features a brown figure that more closely resembles a cow than a woman. Many of the paintings feature large swaths of red, blue and yellow, along with thin black lines that bisect those colors. Often you can make out the images of human figures, or the abundant birds that populate Miró's art.

"The figure of the woman is representative of what is of this world," says Manchanda. "Whereas the bird, or the star, the moon, are for him all symbols of a poetic or imaginary realm to which we all aspire."

You see some of the same images in Miró's cast bronze sculptures, but the three dimensional art is also influenced by Miró's earlier fascination with making art out of found objects. So these sculptures are less ethereal than the paintings. For example, the head of a shovel might be transformed into a face; the tines of a rake are strands of hair.

"Woman with Beautiful Breasts," 1969. Joan Miró, Spanish, 1893-1983.
"Woman with Beautiful Breasts," 1969. Joan Miró, Spanish, 1893-1983.
Credit Successió Miró/Artists Rights Society

Even if you don't recognize Miró's name, you'll recognize his distinctive style when you see his art. His colorful prints inspired popular design in the second half of the 20th century. And Manchanda says young artists working today are still influenced by Miró.

Just look around the Seattle Art Museum galleries: The art isn't trendy, and even when it's intended as commentary on mid-20th century Spanish politics, it isn't dated.

"Miró said, 'My work should be like a poem set to music by a painter,'" Manchanda recites. A symphony of great artworks, rolled into one, perhaps. And great art is timeless.

You can visit "Miró: The Experience of Seeing" through May 8 at Seattle Art Museum.