Mischief Maker

A new exhibit showcases the neglected, playful sculptures of artist Joan Miró

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Though he usually did the painting himself, in 1971 he sent several unpainted bronze sculptures to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis along with several cans of paint and explicit instructions on how to apply it. Dean Swanson, the museum curator, did not touch brush to paint until he received written confirmation from Pierre Matisse, Miró’s American agent, that it was all right to do so. (Once they got the go-ahead, the Walker staff reveled in completing the work and took pictures of one another painting the pieces.)


Why would Miró cast something in costly, heavy bronze if he intended to paint it? It makes no sense. But that may be the point. “It’s quite a joke to find out that there is bronze underneath,” says Coyle. Jeffett agrees. “It’s slightly subversive of our traditional way of looking at bronze, which is generally associated with memorials to dead people,” he says. “He is trying to give bronze another dimension, a very lively one. He is trying to show it is not a dead medium.” Or, as Miró, then 81, told Alexander Calder in 1974, “I am an established painter but a young sculptor.”


Some of the fun of these sculptures comes from their parts. Take the ten-foot-high La caresse d'un oiseau (Caress of a Bird), the tallest painted bronze in the show and one of the most delightful. Miró created a figure of a woman made up mainly of a donkey’s straw hat (with holes for the animal’s ears), a toilet seat from a farm outhouse, and an ironing board; two soccer balls define her buttocks. Miró, whose sketches note that he wanted the woman “decorated in violent colors,” painted her yellow, red and green. A blue bird, cast from a stone and a crescent, sits on her head. Judging by Miró’s notebooks, he had the ironing board and toilet seat in mind long before he went to work on the sculpture.


In the 1970s Miró started preparing models for monumental multicolored sculptures 50 feet or more high, represented in the exhibition by models and photographs. Several such projects were realized—Femme et oiseau (Woman and Bird) in Barcelona, Couple d’amoureux aux jeux de fleurs d’amandier (Lovers Playing among the Almond Flowers) in Paris, and Personnage et oiseaux (Figure and Birds) in Houston—but his plans for a grand structure in three other cities in the United States were thwarted.


From 1971 to 1979, he negotiated with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the city of New York and the Smithsonian Institution’s HirshhornMuseum and SculptureGarden for a monumental sculpture of an abstracted naked woman (see model, p. 102). New York wanted the sculpture for either Central Park or CarlSchurzPark, near the East River. There was a good deal of discussion about material (Miró at first proposed fiberglass and then shifted to more expensive bronze), but in the end, all three cities rejected the project, most likely because of cost, though there is lingering suspicion Miró’s woman might have been too raw for American tastes at the time.



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