Review

Joan Miró: Signs and Figurations at Serralves Foundation in Porto

Tommy Thiange 24 February 2022 min Read

Want to have a stroll with a master in a beautiful Art Deco house? If so, go quickly to the Serralves Foundation in Porto, Portugal, where Joan Miró’s art is exhibited until March 6th, 2022. An overview of six decades of his career, this exhibition shows his versatile but coherent aesthetic approach.

Villa Serralves: A Temple for Joan Miró’s Art

The Serralves Foundation is a playground for art lovers, a wide area devoted exclusively to creation and pleasure. It offers a museum of contemporary art surrounded by a large park, including a House of Cinema, a treetop walk, and amazing sculptures (among others by Olafur Eliasson, and currently a wonderful Louise BourgeoisMaman). In front of the gigantic spider, you find the Villa Serralves, a wonderful example of Portuguese Art Deco architecture.

Villa Serralves, Porto, Portugal. © Fundação de Serralves.

The collection on display is the property of the Portuguese state. On display at the Serralves Foundation, it includes 85 works and covers the length and depth of Miró’s career. Paintings, collages, sculptures, drawings, and weavings provide an outstanding introduction to Joan Miró’s major artistic preoccupations. That is to say, a constant search to simply express his inner poetry on visual terms.

Installation view: Joan Miró: Signs and Figurations at Serralves Villa, Porto, Portugal. © Filipe Braga.

Challenging the Material

Miró devoted his life to developing a singular language at the limits of abstraction. With his own vocabulary, he describes his vision of the world. He reduces objects to simple contours. The forms are distilled to their essential elements in order to make them dance with the colors. They are always in balance, whatever the medium.

For example, in his mid-30s, he started painting on Masonite, an industrial material. Miró’s biographer, Jacques Dupin, describes it as a surface somewhere between baked earth and carbonized straw. Miró was fond of this kind of challenge. The roughness of the material is certainly not an obstacle to the artist’s expression.

Joan Mirò, Le Chant des Oiseaux à L’Automne, oil on masonite, 1937, Serralves Foundation, Porto, Portugal. © Filipe Braga.

During his last decade, he pushed his approach to material even further. That’s why he has collaborated with a talented young weaver named Josep Royo. As a result, they create a series of Sobreteixims or ‘over-weaves’. These pieces are like Miró’s career: a zone with undefined contours, somewhere between collage, painting, sculpture, and craft.

Joan Miró, Sobreteixim 10, 1973, acrylic, felt and robe stitched to woven wall hanging by Josep Royo, Serralves Foundation, Porto, Portugal. © Filipe Braga.

During the same period, Miró also set fire to his paintings, as a way of desacralizing his work, his image, and also art in general. This approach resulted in five “burned canvases”. They were exhibited at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1974, where Miró celebrated a major retrospective. According to the artist’s instructions, two of the canvases were hung from the ceiling so that the front and back of the objects could be seen. This mode of display is still respected at the Serralves Foundation: the location of one of the burned canvases is in the central space. Both sides are visible and, as a bonus, if you look through Miró’s work you can see Louise Bourgeois’ spider sitting just behind the glass, overlooking the gardens.

Joan Miró, Tele Cremades, 1973, acrylic on burnt canvas, Serralves Foundation, Porto, Portugal. © Filipe Braga.

Miró est une Fête

Beyond these experiments, this magnificent collection also reminds us of how spontaneity, joy, and dreaming were important for Joan Miró’s work throughout his career. Above all, he is a magnificent example of the magic resulting from the alliance of adult strength, imagination, and sensitivity.

I never dream at night. I sleep like a baby, but in my studio I am in the middle of a dream. […] It is when I work, when I am awake, that I dream. […] The dream is in my vitality, not in the margins, not provoked. Never.

Joan Miró

Ceci est la Couleur de mes Rêves. Interview with Georges Raillard.

Joan Miró, Femmes et Oiseaux, 1968, Serralves Foundation, Porto, Portugal. © Filipe Braga.

Miró’s art is a celebration. Certainly, the Villa Serralves is a perfect frame to enlighten it. Elegant, spacious, and luminous, it is the ideal setting to highlight these decades of work, characterized by exigency and curiosity. The Villa also accentuates with the constant focus of the artist on being reborn. For sure, this astonishing collection is in good hands for years to come.

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