DC at Night

DC at Night

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Joan Miro: The Ladder of Escape

Spanish surrealist painter Joan Miro lived through the most tumultuous times of the 20th century, but instead of giving in to darkness and despair, he produced innovative, magnificent art that he called "something like a cry of joy that delivers you from anguish."

Miro and his works are the subject of a comprehensive exhibit Joan Miro: The Ladder of Escape now at the National Gallery until August 12.

The Farm
The exhibit takes its name from the ladder motif that appears in so much of Miro's work. Critics have suggested that Miro used ladders as a symbolic bridge between both earth and heaven and between the worlds of reality and imagination. The 2-floor exhibit captures all of the periods of Miro's groundbreaking work from his scenes of his beloved Catalan farmlands to the sparse, yet colorful canvases of his final years.

The artist credited his Catalan roots for keeping him grounded despite the fancy flights of his art. "We Catalans believe you must always plant your feet firmly on the ground if you want to jump into the air," Miro said. "The fact that I came down to earth from time to time makes it possible for me to jump all the higher."

Although not considered an overtly political painter, the horrors of World War I, the Spanish Civil War, and World War II had a great influence on Miro's art. His works began depicting surrealistic figures with twisted bodies crying out in anguish as they flee from all-encompassing fire. But, at the same time, he also featured other figures with raised, defiant fists.

One of his most famous murals, informally titled The Reaper and initially paired with Pablo Picasso's powerful anti-war masterpiece Guernica, told the visual story of Catalan peasants revolting against oppression.

Can you find the excrement here?
During this time, Miro also began giving his works provocative titles like "Man and Woman in Front of a Pile of Excrement" and "Woman Stabbed by the Sun Reciting Rocket Poems in the Geometrical Shapes of the Musical Bat Spittle of the Sea."

"We are living through a hideous drama that will leave deep marks in our mind," Miro said of those violent times. "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 the later 1940s, Miro turned to creating a series of paintings that featured stick-like alien figures, strange animals, and celestial stars and suns. In 1945, a showing of his work in New York established him as one of the major creators of modern art.

In 1968, seemingly inspired by student protests around the world, Miro began creating some of his most arresting work, including a series entitled the burnt paintings. After finishing the large canvasses, Miro would burn a portion of the work and rip it by throwing stones on it.
Burnt Canvas (1973)
May 1968

Throughout his life, Miro let his art be his voice. His definition of an artist was "one who, amdist the silence of others, uses his voice to say something." And as Joan Miro: The Ladder of Escape clearly demonstrates, Miro said quite a lot.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
As an enhancement to the exhibit, famed D.C. Chef Jose Andres has created a temporary cafe in the National Gallery featuring foods from Miro's Catalonia. We ate there for lunch. I had the buffet which consisted of::
  • Empredrat de mongetes (white bean salad with vegetables, black olives, and tomatoes)
  • Sopa freda de cireres de Santa Coloma de Cervello (cold cherry and tomato soup)
  • Samfaina (traditonal Cataln stew of vegetables)
  • Xatonada (salad of frisee, preserved tuna, and romesco sauce)
  • Formatges amb anous i codony (Catalan cheese with Marcona almonds and quince marmalade)
  • Escalivada catalana (salad of roasted red pepper, eggplant, and onion)
  • Pollastre a la catalana (traditional Catalan chicken stew with dried fruit and nuts)
  • Fricando de galtes de vedella amb bolets (traditional Catalan stew of beef chunks and mushrooms)
  • Crema catalana (traditonal carmelized Catalan custard)
It was really good and provided a great complement to Miro's work.

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