"Miro: The Experience of Seeing" at the McNay Museum of Art, September 2015. Photo by Page Graham.
"Miro: The Experience of Seeing" at the McNay Art Museum. Photo by Page Graham.

The McNay Art Museum will host a rare glimpse of paintings and sculpture by Joan Miró (1893-1983), the Spanish-born surrealist, who was a master of his genre. “Miró: The Experience of Seeing,” opens on Wednesday, Sept. 30, and runs through Jan. 10.

Prior to its arrival in San Antonio, the show traveled to Seattle, Durham, and Denver. The McNay is the only Southwestern venue and final stop on the exhibition’s U.S. tour before returning to its home in Spain.

The exhibition was conceived by Carmen Fernández Aparicio, chief curator of sculpture at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, along with Belén Galán Martín, chief curator of paintings, Spain. They also received guidance from Rosario Peiró, chief curator of the permanent collection. All works were drawn from this collection and the tour represents a unique opportunity to introduce American audiences to the innovative works created by Miró in his later years (1963-1981).

Aparicio was in San Antonio working with Chief Curator René Barilleaux and the McNay team to install this exhibition over the past week. Through an interpreter, she shared some insight, “This exhibition shows us the vitality and richness of his work, and as he aged, he did not lose any intensity.”

Chief Curator Rene Barilleaux. McNay Museum of Art, September 2015. Photo by Page Graham.
Chief Curator Rene Barilleaux at the McNay Art Museum. Photo by Page Graham.

Barilleaux stressed that this is the first large-scale solo exhibition of a European Modernist that the McNay has done in its history. Considering that European Modernism is essentially the basis on which the museum was founded, this is a benchmark installation for San Antonio.

“It is important that we connect to European Modernism as well as American,” Barilleaux said.

“There hasn’t been a show of Miró on this scale in the area, particularly looking at the sculpture and painting together,” McNay Director William Chiego said.

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There are a total of 57 paintings, drawings, and sculptures. This exhibition is the first dedicated to this particular period of the artist’s life. It is a chapter that even today remains mostly overshadowed by his contributions during the interwar and immediate postwar periods.

According to the curators’ statement, “His works during those mature years represent a more personal language, where neither painting nor sculpture takes precedence. Instead, approaching these disciplines again from his original perspective, he set out to explore their conceptual limits by questioning their very nature.”

Beloved as a Spanish national treasure today, the relationship of Joan Miró with the Spanish government was quite complex during his lifetime. As a Barcelona-born Catalonian, he maintained a staunch and public opposition to the Franco regime. His later years coincided with the waning of the Franco dictatorship and it was during this period that the fascist regime attempted to appropriate the iconic artist into the institutional culture on many levels. This included the first-ever retrospective of his work presented in Barcelona in 1968. The artist did not attend.

Miro in studio from video. Photo by Page Graham.
Joan Miró in his studio, captured on film by Pere Portabella. Photo by Page Graham.

Included in this exhibition is the film “Miró l’altre” (1969) created by Pere Portabella, an iconoclastic Spanish filmmaker. Miró was engaged with the cultural vanguard and the youth scene of the time. The short film is a fascinating look at Miró captured in an orchestrated act of civil disobedience as he first created a mural across the windows of the College of Architects in Barcelona. Two months later, he destroyed that mural in protest of the manipulation of his image by the state.

Captured in this film is his intensity at work. An old man with the drive of a young man who still has something to prove. What may appear to be random brush strokes to the average person, was a sure and present act of creation and defiance. It is very much akin to a sophisticated choreography or improvisation. Viewing the show in this context leads to the question: How do you explain the spirit, intensity and intellect of this great artist to the average guy seeking to understand what all this means?

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“There is a childlike quality. He is inspired by works that have that kind of immediacy – like folk art, like the cave paintings (at Lascaux). In his hands, because he is so incredibly gifted, there is an authority in the way he applies paint to canvas,” Chiego said. “In that sense it is not accidental, it is deliberate. It comes out of a feeling of total freedom. When he starts with that dot and then his mind starts going on how to add to that. It comes out of all that experience, but it is an authoritative application of paint because he knows what he wants to achieve. So, it comes out of a simplicity in his whole approach to nature, but it is not simple.”

This exhibition features bold, colorful, and playful compositions that highlight the artist’s ingenuity. Looking at the paintings and sculpture together gives us an opportunity to meditate on how the artist found inspiration.

“There are always references to nature, to humans, to animals in his work, but it becomes even more playful in his late career, and many of his sculptures are like little people looking at you,” Chiego said. “They have a wonderful appeal for adults and children both and it just shows a lyrical side of his personality as an artist that really projects to the end of his life.”

The Media takes a moment to play at "Miro: The Experience of Seeing." Photo by Page Graham.
The Media takes a moment to play at “Miro: The Experience of Seeing.” Photo by Page Graham.

As always, The McNay has arranged a number of events to help the community connect with this landmark exhibition. Among the highlights, the museum will host the Art of Spain Lecture Series, Spanish Brunch @ the McNay, a performance series featuring flamenco, Spanish a capella music, and Spanish classical guitar. In addition, there is a film series, as well as many activities to engage families young and those young at heart. Click here to visit the McNay’s event calendar.

The McNay Museum of Art is located at 6000 New Braunfels Ave. For more information about museum membership or programming call (210) 824-5368 or visit online at mcnayart.org.

*Top image: “Miró: The Experience of Seeing” at the McNay Art Museum. Photo by Page Graham.

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Tami Kegley

Tami Kegley has lived the life of an artist. Through multiple careers — dancer, percussionist, performance artist, sculptor, goldsmith, gallerist — she has pursued her need to create. The Great Recession...