Nahmad Contemporary is pleased to present Joan Miró: Oiseaux dans L’Espace, a solo presentation of masterworks from the sixties and seventies. As one of the great innovators of the 20th century, Miró is remembered as a towering figure in the annals of world art history. His oeuvre inhabits a poetic realm of metaphor and symbolism that transcends time and space and taps into the universal. Thus, he remains equally inspirational to this day. In reexamining major paintings from the final two decades of the artist’s life, this exhibition sheds new light on the Catalan master’s complex and profound engagement with American abstract art.
At the time of Miró’s first visit to the United States in 1947, he was already well established in America as a hero within the modernist pantheon, most notably through his 1941 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. As art historian, Barbara Rose, has noted, Miró’s early works from the twenties, thirties into the forties evolved a reconciliation between figuration and the flatness of modernist painting, which was a revelation to the American avant-garde. He offered an alternative to the rigidity of geometric abstraction at a time when American abstract painters were urgently seeking a way to deliver a more compelling moral and emotional message in the wake of World War II. Miró’s preoccupation with the sky, an infinite expanse of space and color, was deeply inspirational for Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman and Clyfford Still. Jackson Pollock synthesized Miró’s use of accidental marks as a starting point for organic, amorphous imagery. Under the influence of Miró’s poetic primitivism, biomorphic forms entered the vocabulary of Arshile Gorky and Willem de Kooning. Miró’s use of calligraphy as a painterly technique influenced the likes of Robert Motherwell and Larry Rivers, and his experimentation with rubbing thinned paint into the canvas was an antecedent to the school of Stain painters led by Helen Frankenthaler and Morris Louis.
Miró’s exposure to American painting during his 1947 trip was a “punch in the chest,” and a catalyst to the liberation of the artist’s late works. In 1959, The New American Painting exhibition toured through Europe. That same year, Miró returned to the United States on the occasion of his second solo retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. The vitality, boldness and daring of his American counterparts, as well as the sheer ambition of their monumental scale, resonated with him, opening up new possibilities and directions in his own practice. The Abstract Expressionists, for whom Miró’s earlier work had been a formal springboard, now came to influence Miró in return, emboldening him to revisit his most radically reductive paintings. He began to fill the entirety of a field with a single expanded ideogram, as Kline and Motherwell had done. His gestating forms grew more open and expansive; his calligraphic flourishes more dramatic and fluid. Art historian, Margit Rowell, has pointed out that Miró’s paintings of the sixties and seventies represent his response to the American interpretation of his own “magnetic field” paintings of the twenties.
Joan Miró: Oiseaux dans L’Espace illuminates the artist’s reaction to the young Americans, which translated into a vastly liberated gestural energy that intensified in his work following his final visit to the United States in 1968. Of American painting, Miró has said, “It showed me the liberties we can take, and how far we could go, beyond the limits. In a sense, it freed me.” Through this dialogue, Miró’s imaginative spirit, akin to a bird in space, reached unparalleled levels of poeticism in his mature work. Miró was able to harness a new kind of freedom – from drips to splashes to hand prints – to achieve a symphonic marriage between the sophisticated poeticism of his European roots with the unfettered optimism of the American avant-garde.
This exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue featuring a new essay by leading Miró scholar, Jean-Louis Prat, as well as an interview between the artist and Barbara Rose.
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