7 June, 1978: the audience at El Liceu (Barcelona’s opera house) zealously applauds a short, gray-haired man standing among a myriad of actors on stage. His name is Joan…Joan Miró…and the actors are members of La Claca, an experimental theatre troupe that had just performed a play inspired by Miró’s free-form shapes. The play is titled Mori la Merma (Death to the Bogeyman) and Miró designed the props. For inspiration the characters draw on his paintings about tyranny and oppression, something the artist had experienced firsthand during and following the Spanish Civil War.
Some forty years earlier, and precisely during the Spanish Civil War, Miró’s great mural, The Reaper, was commissioned by the Republican Government for the 1937 Paris World Fair. The great piece was eclipsed only by the presence of Picasso’s immortal masterpiece, Guernica, in the same way Miró’s fame as a surrealist would be eclipsed by that of his eccentric compatriot, Salvador Dalí.
Barcelona celebrating Miró
Miró is one of Barcelona’s most internationally renowned progenies and the city is currently celebrating his legacy through a set of exhibitions and a cultural itinerary. Whether at the metro stations or at the foundation-museum carrying his name, Miró’s artworks are there for everyone to admire: a dream world of surreal visions that had earned him the praise of such figures as Ernest Hemingway, André Breton and Sergei Diaghilev.
At the Joan Miró Foundation, a massive exhibition titled The Ladder of Escape brought together some 150 of his works. Following its success at the Tate Modern, London, the exhibition succeeded again at Barcelona (ended 18 March), and will travel to National Gallery of Art in Washington DC later this year.
Miró developed a pictorial language of his own, a language whose vocabulary featured – among other things – peasants, women, birds and stars; stars the way a child would see them, and constellations that inspire harmony and remoteness from earthly matters. It was his refuge, his way of handling the horrors of war. In his own words, "I felt a deep desire to escape. I closed myself within myself purposely. The night, music, and the stars began to play a major role in suggesting my paintings."
Miró is a legend not only in Spain and France, where he lived and produced his art, but also in other parts of the world. Last month, Christie’s celebrated Joan Miró’s painting-poem Le Corps de Ma Brune selling for $26.6 million, setting a record for his works.
…and Miró welcomes you to Barcelona
Enter the city by land and you will be greeted by Miró’s Dona i Ocell, a public sculpture representing a woman and a bird. Enter by the airport and you cannot miss his grand colourful mural. Enter by the sea and his pavement mosaic Pla de I’Os will invite you to walk over it at the Ramblas, the main avenue taking you from the sea to the heart of the city. Every day, the Ramblas is packed with thousands of tourists that come and go without even noticing that they have just ‘stepped on’ a Miró…what else don’t they know about him?
Catalonia gave birth to many great surrealists. Salvador Dalí, Remedios Varo and Leandre Cristòfol are just a few examples but none of them were as catalanista (Catalan nationalist) as Miró, whose attachment to his homeland was almost always present – openly or symbolically – in most of his works (like The Farm and Head of a Catalan Peasant). To explore his roots, a cultural tour in Barcelona’s Ciutat Vella (Old City) proves inevitable.
In the footsteps of a Catalan nationalist
Building number 4, Passatge del Crèdit Street is now part of a hotel which also opens onto the busy Ferran Street. However it was only a house when Miró was born in it back in 1893. Not even the staff at the shop next door knew that the Rialto Hotel was once home to the artist. Not far from here, Miró had his first lessons at a medieval mansion (13 Regomir Street) in the Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter).
After studying art for a while, he finally joined the emblematic arts society Cercle Artistic de Sant Lluc (3 Montsió Street) and had his first solo exhibition in 1918 at Dalmau Gallery (18 Portaferrissa Street), which no longer exists. Later on, the former L'Hospital de la Santa Creu would host his first anthology exhibition but our itinerary has to take a different turn so that we can scratch a bit deeper beneath the surface and get closer to the life of this artist.
Cocteleria Boadas (1 Tallers Street) would be a good place for that. The art-deco cocktail bar was one of his favourite places and you can still see letters that he wrote to the owner hanging on the wall. They still serve a Miró cocktail in his honour. Restaurant 7 Portes (14 Passatge d’Isabel II) is a classy eatery where he went to dine and a metal plaque of honour carrying his name is there to mark the seat that he occupied. At Plaça Reial, he would frequent Los Tarantos to enjoy some quality flamenco, while at 335 Consell de Cent Street you can still admire his ceramic mural for the Otovara Restaturant.
Miró moved to Paris in 1920, but he never lost his ties to Barcelona, a city to which he would always return, even after he died in Mallorca in 1983. He is buried at Montjuïc Cemetery in Barcelona. His museum (also in Montjuïc) stands there, all white, welcoming the admirers of his art and his ideology, a legacy of a great artist and a great person.
A documentary about Joan Miró will be screened on 7pm, Monday, 26 March at the Gezira Art Centre located at 1 El-Sheikh Marsafy Street, Zamalek.
Mohammed Elrazzaz holds an MA in Cultural Management (Universitat Internacional de Catalunya, Barcelona) and is currently a PhD candidate and a professor of “Tools for managing Culture” at the same university. He also collaborates with the Andalusi Legacy Foundation (Granada) as a writer/researcher on history and culture.