Tyler Green
Art-focused Journalism by Tyler Green

Tyler Green Modern Art Notes

'Joan Miro, 1927-1937' at MoMA

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MiroHead27PMA.jpgA couple of years ago I found myself having a conversation with a museum director about whether a certain artist was really great, about whether s/he was a pre-eminent figure, a key player in the progression of contemporary art.

“He only did one thing,” I said. “And he did it over and over for decades. He created a word, not a language. He has had no second act. His work has not developed. We’ve not seen his work mature. We’ve not seen him take new risks.”

The museum director disagreed: “But that one thing he did — it was absolutely great. The overwhelming majority of artists don’t or can’t do anything that’s worthy of inclusion in the canon. So isn’t one great idea enough?”

Joan Miro: Painting and Anti-Painting, 1927-1937,” recently at MoMA, was all about that debate. I think Miro would have agreed with me: Curator Anne Umland showed that Miro never stopped pushing himself to create the next thing, to create something brand-new. For Miro, achieving success as a a figure-referencing merger of often-biomorphic surrealism with cubism wasn’t enough.

Umland started her argument with the show’s first gallery — no soft, ease-you-in warm-up gallery here — by arguing that Miro made a clean break with his synthesizing past early in 1927. From then on, continued Umland through the next decade, Miro developed a new language, one that was all his own. [Image above: From that first gallery, Joan Miro‘s Painting (Head), 1927. The chronology of works at MoMA’s site for the show presents Umland’s case in linear JPEG format.]

MiroCloudandBirds27MFAB.jpgIt was a thrilling exhibition, one in which Miro’s relentless drive to achieve something new was made tangible. Miro’s need to go beyond what he’d done and what his forerunners had done was apparent in every gallery.

In part because Miro moved so fast, rarely has an exhibition needed its catalogue more. The accompanying book, complied by Umland with contributions from Jim Coddington, Robert S. Lubar and Jordana Mendelson, delivers in supplying Miro-centric narrative. The catalogue’s only substantial fault is that it almost completely ignores how Miro’s language and interests were informed by his contemporaries, artists such as Arp, Calder and Picasso. Its narrative is all-Miro, almost all-the-time.

In a few posts over the next week or two, I’ll take a meander through the show. Tomorrow I’ll start with examining whether 1927 really was such a key year for Miro, and whether his painterly progress pre-dates that year. [Image: Joan Miro‘s Painting (Cloud and Birds), 1927.]

Related: There’s a paragraph in Holland Cotter’s NYT review that nicely sums up the experience of walking through Umland’s show. It’s in the jump.

Part two.

Cotter: “[Miro] must have been exhausted. I was when I reached the last gallery, but exhilarated too because I felt I’d been through something: not the blockbuster slog but the experience of one artist’s creative process and the experience of an exhibition as a form of thinking. Like reading a book, the process makes you part of the trip, not just a witness to it.”

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