This most recent exhibit, late works by Joan Miro, “The Experience of Seeing” at the Seattle Art Museum, is another in a line of SAM’s high-quality, well-executed shows. I can’t remember all the ones I’ve seen, but my memory brings up Picasso, Michaelangelo, and Australian Aboriginal art, all jaw-dropping in their scope and educational value. And there’s still plenty of time to see it, since the show runs until May 26.
This one, while not their best, certainly highlights those qualities which make the Catalon painter one of the 20th century’s major artistic figures.
First, the complaint. The exhibit only focuses on his latter years, from the 1960s forward. While I understand why SAM focused the show on this period, I would still have liked to have seen some–maybe one or two–of his earlier pieces. This would have served as a frame of reference for the rest of the show, and allowed the public to also see how his aesthetic advanced.
This is not just me talking, either. After talking among other friends, I learned they felt the same way, that it lacked a reference point. I also missed the audio narratives, but the documentation the museum provided was extensive.
Guided tours are available, but Handsom Hunk and I arrived to early to take advantage of them. We were there early on a Saturday morning to avoid the crowds while the docent tours weren’t scheduled until the afternoon. I’m not really fond of them anyway. I much prefer to move at my own pace, and I don’t have to strain to hear.
But that’s enough of that. I don’t want anything to take away from the positive aspects of the show, and there are many. As mentioned already, the notes and cataloging were sufficient for my needs.
Miro was an innovator; his style was not realist. He was definitely in the surreal/Dadaist camp, perfectly content to blaze his own trail. One of his greatest influences (who also became a mentor and close friend) was fellow Spaniard Pablo Picasso.
Like Picasso, Miro moved through many of the avant-garde movements of the 20th century, as well as dabbling in many other media, including tapestries. He made objet trouvé sculpture, fusing the pieces together into a single unit. His intent, he explained, was to eliminate the individual parts to favor the whole. One piece in particular (I didn’t think to write down the names of the pieces) incorporated a broken picture frame. Miro’s intent here, as explained, was to further break down the concept of a painting as a separated from the viewer by a frame. His use of this broken frame, then, demonstrated how he wanted to dispense with all the “stuff”, the baggage, associated with art to create a new experience. He constantly experimented in this way, which is the reason he was such a huge influence on 20th century art. It’s also the reason for SAM’s title of the show, and, in this regard, they succeeded.
His approach in all his work was also quite minimalist, incorporating a piece here, a part there, creating a complex visual with only a mere suggestion of its title. This forces the viewer to “connect the dots”, and make their own decisions and responses to the pieces. Many of his paintings from this period were a simple series of brush-stroked black lines on a white background, with little of other colors present. This technique, as Handsome Hunk observed, is very reminiscent of the Chinese sumi’e or ink and wash painting style. The paintings were also large, 3 ‘ by 5’ or larger, and the museum wisely hung only eight or ten in each gallery, providing plenty of room to move around and study the pieces. Most of the sculptures were on a much smaller scale.
Overall, what the show’s lack of range was compensated by its coverage of the depth and breadth of his final years (the last piece was a sculpture cast in 1981, two years before his death, in 1983, at 90). Miro influenced many who followed, including Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock. No one interested in 20th century art should miss this. It’s well worth the time. SAM should be quite proud of this one, too.