Review

Joan Miró: A Major Retrospective at BAM in Mons

Tommy Thiange 12 December 2022 min Read

In Belgium, a major retrospective of Joan Miró is being held for the first time since 1956. It runs from October 8th, 2022 to January 8th, 2023 at the BAM in Mons. This exhibition honors the prolific universe of an unclassifiable artist by bringing together nearly 100 original works by Joan Miró. The exhibition reveals a fascinating man whose total investment in his art allowed him to create a body of work that feeds on everything while remaining instantly recognizable. Let’s go investigate!

Four Paintings for a Panorama

The show Joan Miro: The Essence of Past and Present Things at BAM, Mons, begins with a large wall photo of Miró in his studio. It then moves on to four paintings, each of which depicts a woman. This overview is a useful way to discover the aesthetic mutations of Miró’s career in a single glance. We progress from meticulous figurative representation to graphic works that are characterized by simplicity and even stripping.

His perspective on reality has evolved. Subjects have been reduced to simple contours. They became signs. Miró emphasized the figure’s essence. He made the forms dance with the colors, and these forms were reduced to their essential elements. The figuration took a back seat, giving way to the rhythm of the canvas. This general introduction is useful for figuring out where the exhibition will take us.

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Training Years

Like many major artists of his time, Miró received a thorough traditional artistic education. He studied drawing and decorative arts. Thanks to his teachers, he was introduced to popular artistic trends and discovered the allure of empty spaces and night landscapes. Miró gradually developed a passion for color that remained with him for his entire life.

During this time, Miró also developed a keen interest in contemporary movements, particularly Fauvism and Cubism. The colors of the former and the structural principles of the latter, as well as the coastal villages of his region, such as Mont-Roig, inspired him tremendously.

Joan Miró BAM: Joan Miró, Mont-Roig, the bridge, 1917, David and Ezra Nahmad Collection. Pinterest.

Joan Miró, Mont-Roig, the bridge, 1917, David and Ezra Nahmad Collection. Pinterest.

A Dialog with the Past

Miró maintained a lifelong dialog with art history. He was interested in ancient Roman art, Italian and Northern Renaissance, and Dutch Golden Age. The exhibition includes an interactive digital device to learn more about those influences. It shows us how Miró transformed history through the lens of his vision to create some of his own works. For example, we can understand that the painting Harlequin’s Carnival has connections with the work of Hieronymus Bosch. On the canvas, Miró scattered many small figures, inspired by the creatures in Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights.

Miró often visited museums and art galleries. He also owned an extensive collection of art books and magazines, exhibition catalogues, photographic reproductions of paintings, and art-related newspaper and magazine clippings. One of the exhibition’s strengths is that it shows us a large part of this collection. You will see old publications devoted to Etruscan art, Giotto’s works, Japanese art and calligraphy, as well as French modern art. You will also see more personal objects of Miró’s daily life, such as museum postcards he often sent to his friends.

Joan Miró BAM: Joan Miró, Harlequins Carnival, 1924-1925. Joan-Miro.net.

Joan Miró, Harlequins Carnival, 1924-1925. Joan-Miro.net.

Breaking Free from Classical Western Traditions

Miró developed a keen interest for Far Eastern art, particularly Japanese calligraphy which is highlighted in one of the exhibition rooms. Japanese influences significantly impacted Miró’s art throughout his life. This symbiotic art of writing and drawing represented a way for him to reach poetry in a visual form. He was also aware of the ritual associated with its conception: the creative act is performed in a meditative state. Contemplation and creation coexist. The void is used to compose the works, and the elements are balanced and anchored in Zen minimalism.

Miró always associated artistic creation with discipline and meticulous planning. These tendencies explain his preference for Japanese practices.

(…) that class was like a religious ceremony for me; I washed my hands carefully before touching the paper and pencils. The implements were like sacred objects, and I worked as though I was performing a religious rite. This state of mind has persisted, even more, pronounced.

Joan Miró

Extract from the visitor’s guide.

However, he did not visit Japan until the latter part of his life (at the age of 73 and again at 76). These trips were, of course, a source of stimulation for this insatiably curious man and inspired a new wave of creation.

Joan Miró BAM: Joan Miró, Sans titre 10, 1966, private collection, Belgium. Maruani Mercier.

Joan Miró, Sans titre 10, 1966, private collection, Belgium. Maruani Mercier.

Aside from Japan, other influences helped him to break free from classical Western art, most notably his interest in his native country’s heritage: prehistoric cave paintings, Catalan-Roman frescos, and traditional Catalan art. He frequently visited the Barcelona Archaeological Museum, local Roman churches, and the villages of Siurana and Prades. Miró experimented on various supports, even animal skins, in order to maintain contact with these ancestral art forms.

Joan Miró BAM: Joan Miró, Les oiseaux de proie foncent sur nos ombres, 1970, Collection Isabelle Maeght, Paris, France.

Joan Miró, Les oiseaux de proie foncent sur nos ombres, 1970, Collection Isabelle Maeght, Paris, France.

Artistic Creation As an Endless Enthusiasm

The exhibition at BAM reminds us that Miró was a hardworking student, but above all, a curious individual who was always on the lookout for knowledge. Throughout his life, he was open to what the world had to offer. This retrospective focuses on numerous influences that served him as an endless source of inspiration. A genuine approach in support of a demanding and deeply personal artistic vision. This is what makes each of his works so distinguishable.

Joan Miró BAM: Joan Miró, Figures devant la lune, 1942, Galerie Lelong & Co, Paris, France.

Joan Miró, Figures devant la lune, 1942, Galerie Lelong & Co, Paris, France.

The BAM exhibition concludes with a screening of the documentary Theatre of Dreams. It depicts Miró, at the age of 85, making costumes for a young anarchist theater group. Miró was an excited and motivated person throughout his entire life, as if each project he commenced was his first one. It was undoubtedly this open attitude that enabled him to create this universal graphic language. A language that guaranteed him an unavoidable place in art history.

Joan Miró BAM: Joan Miró, Sans titre, 1977, Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró, Mallorca, Spain.

Joan Miró, Sans titre, 1977, Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró, Mallorca, Spain.

The exhibition Joan Miró: The Essence of Past and Present Things at BAM (Beaux-Arts Mons) in Mons, Belgium runs through January 8th, 2023. If you’re a Miró fan and happen to visit Belgium, make sure to go to BAM!

Joan Miró BAM: Exhibition poster of Joan Miró: The Essence of Past and Present Things at BAM, Mons, Belgium. Mons Blog.

Exhibition poster of Joan Miró: The Essence of Past and Present Things at BAM, Mons, Belgium. Mons Blog.

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