Art, Art Museums, Museum Exhibitions

Joan Miró: “The Ladder of Escape,” The National Gallery of Art, May 6 – August 12, 2012

[examiner.com] Joan Miró (1893-1983), one of the world’s greatest and most influential 20th century artists, who used his “free and violent” works to protest fascism in his beloved Spain, is celebrated in an exhibit that opened May 6 at DC’s National Gallery, the only US venue.

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Self-Portrait, 1937-1938-February 23, 1960, oil and pencil on canvas
Collection of Emilio Fernández, on loan to the Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona

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Joan Miró: The Ladder of Escape“, with some 120 paintings and works on paper that span his entire 65-year career, is the National Gallery’s first exhibit devoted exclusively to the renowned Catalan artist.

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Joan Miro, “The Ladder of Escape”, 1940
The Museum of Modern Art

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The enigmatic title refers to Miró’s many-layered escapes. Beginning at age 18, he retreated from his native Barcelona to the family farm Mont-roig in the Catalan hills to recover from a nervous breakdown and typhus. He returned to Barcelona periodically throughout his life, and escaped it again in 1919. “I would a thousand times rather … fail utterly, totally in Paris than go on suffering in these filthy, stinking waters of Barcelona.”

He remained in exile — escape? — in France throughout the Spanish Civil War and the early years of Franco’s fascist dictatorship, until World War II forced the artist to return. For the last four decades of his 90-year life, Miró lived on the Catalan island of Mallorca.

His perpetual escape was withdrawing into his own artistic world. He used his work to flee from “my pessimistic nature. When I work, I want to escape this pessimism.” He found both emotional and geographical escape continually to the farm in Mont-roig.

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Joan Miro, “Dog Barking at the Moon,” 1926, oil on canvas
Philadelphia Museum of Art, A.E. Gallatin Collection, 1952

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His painting “The Farm” (1921-1922), which Miró termed a “résumé of my entire life in the country,” is one of two centerpieces for the wide-ranging exhibit. Both are from the National Gallery’s (NGA) collection.

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“The Farm,” 1921-1922, oil on canvas
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary Hemingway, 1987

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Miró’s friend and sparring partner, Ernest Hemingway, bought the painting, and said “It has in it all that you feel in Spain when you are there, and all you feel when you’re away and cannot go there.” Hemingway’s widow Mary donated it to the NGA in 1987.

The other centerpiece is the NGA’s “Head of a Catalan Peasant” (1924), one of several versions of this stick figure with red-hatted head, squiggles for legs, a blue star, and a rainbow. The one constant in the sequence is the peasant’s red hat (barretina), a Catalan symbol of liberty.

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Joan Miro, “Head of a Catalan Peasant,” 1924, oil and crayon on canvas
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of the Collectors Committee, 1981

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A major focus of the exhibition is Miró’s political and social works, second only to Picasso and his famed “Guernica”.

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Joan Miro, “The Two Philosophers,” February 4-12, 1936, oil on copper
The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Mary and Leigh Block

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Joan Miro, “Still Life with Old Shoe”, January 24-May 29, 1937, Oil on Canvas
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Gift of James Thrall Soby, 1970

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Joan Miro, “Toward the Rainbow”, March 11, 1941, Gouache and Oil Wash on Paper
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection, 1998

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Joan Miro, “Mural Painting I Orange-Yellow,” May 18, 1962, Oil on Canvas
Private collection

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Miró defined an artist as someone who “uses his voice to say something…that offers a service to man…when an artist speaks in an environment in which freedom is difficult, he must turn each of his works into a negation of the negations, in an untying of all oppressions, all prejudices, and all the false established values.”  Continue reading.

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