I walk to 2nd Ave up to 3rd but then after a while I start going back up towards midtown, the brisk air is warmer now and my meal has renewed my strength so I walk to Union Square taking the 6 train back up to 51 St Street then it’s a short walk up to MOMA. I go in and quite frankly I didn’t know what to expect from Miro’s work, I wasn’t a big fan of his work really. I mean the pieces I had seen other days in various shows looked all the same to me, repeated shapes and colors with thin black lines connecting things together. I as a painter would stop short of saying “a kid could paint that” because I know that it’s not true but I have to admit I didn’t get his work and figured the only reason he was famous was because he did it first. But now after seeing the exhibit as a whole I can tell you I was wrong. Miro’ wanted to as he put it “assassinate painting” and he did just that, and although the other Surrealist painters made fun of his childlike symbols and bourgeois reserve, the leader of the movement Andre Breton was quoted as saying “that he might have been the most surreal of us all” that was high praise from a bullying control freak like Breton.
When you look at the early works on unprimed canvas you see some very simple shapes, and a few with words painted in and you think to yourself that you might be embarrassed to show these to a gallery. But then you move on to the paintings called Dutch Interiors you see a man who is taking classic paintings and dis-assembling them in his own fashion. The effect is breathtaking because the thought that went in to breaking down the classic work took much time and effort, seeing them side by side you pick out all the details. Miro’ has left nothing out, nothing to chance so as he said “I create nothing it’s all there” he is correct. I move on to the most impressive part of the exhibit for me which is the collage studies and resulting paintings of 1933. These are a mind blowing exercise in genius I think, he has taken advertisements in newspapers for crutches, telephones, coat racks, medicine bottles, even a political cartoon and he has arranged then in a seemingly senseless collage on paper (senseless to the uninitiated, collage isn’t easy) then working from that collage has transformed the collage shapes into a much larger work. The absolute way in which he made recognizable objects into shapes that hark-en back to their models is when my opinion of Miro’ went through the roof! I can clearly see now why Breton spoke so highly of his work, but what I see too is that he was really in my view the first Abstract Expressionist artist, I see more of Miro’ in the work of Alexander Calder, Robert Motherwell. Why even Jackson Pollacks non drip figurative work lends itself to Miro’s trail blazing. The series from 1935-36 painted on Masonite and copper are just astounding in their luminosity, the pieces on copper actually seem to glow from the copper as the Tempera used on Masonite glows from the medium instead of the surface. These small paintings are among my favorite and would love to own one. But these paintings also recall the shapes from the Dutch Interiors and represent a break in style from the Collage Paintings of 33. The exhibit concludes with a series of paintings on Masonite from 1936 that seem to me to recall the simple pieces from the start of the exhibit, all painted without being primed they look very much like the unprimed canvases of 1927 in style as well as lack of background pigment. These pieces leave me a little flat but in no way decrease my respect for what I’ve seen, the exhibit ends with a luminous piece done in 1937, and here Miro’ changes direction wanting to do something different he adopts a figurative style painting the hallucinatory “Still Life with Old Shoe” a dazzling painting that uses a fork, a potato, and an old shoe to tell the story of the war years as this was painted during the civil war in Spain, he and his family would not see Spain again for four years.
So I leave the museum after a walk around the gift shop filed with excited tourists and art students all wandering like kids in a candy store, I mean you want one of everything here no joke, beautiful home accessories from the design collection are available, glassware, cups, mugs, dishes. Books galore for the armchair art historian and toys for the kids, as well as limited edition prints framed professionally and all manner of scarves, brooches and pins for the ladies. too much for me to even try to remember here, take a look if you get a chance. But right now I’m getting hungry and I’m thinking that a cold glass of Harp at Tracks in Penn Station and some oysters with hot sauce would be just the thing right now. But as I leave the museum and start walking towards 7 th Ave I gotta wonder if I can wait that long, there’s alot of street food between here and there and it smells mighty good my friends. Lets see do I want Shish-Ka-Bob or Gyro, Knish with cheese or dirty water dogs with relish and mustard, or how about a pretzel with cheese sauce, or maybe…..
I finally decide on Harp and oysters on the half shell, I’ve never tried these before and decide that I would be able to eat them so as not to offend a host at a party but I didn’t need to order them again. I make the mistake of starting up a conversation with a guitar teacher at the bar sitting next to me, he goes on and on about how good he is and I should try him as a teacher. I explain that I had to stop lessons because I couldn’t afford the monthly bill anymore but he goes on anyway ignoring what I’m telling him to promote himself. So I finish my beer and hope that he does not follow me out and get on the same train, when he doesn’t I’m relieved, I wouldn’t take lessons with this guy if I won a million dollars, too much talk, too full of himself to be a good teacher.
I sit later on the homeward bound train and think about what I saw, during his life he created over 2000 paintings! If nothing else Juan Miro’ taught me not to judge a book by it’s cover, a quiet man who said little and thought much did more for art than I ever imagined.