May 29, 2019

By Jiahe Wang

Joan Miró, The Hunter (Catalan Landscape), 1923-24

By Jiahe Wang

I’ve always thought of Joan Miró’s art as baffling and quite pretentious. By declaring my dislike for Surrealism and the Catalán artist I felt like the kid revealing to the world that the emperor is naked. However, the Museum of Modern Art exhibition “Joan Miró: Birth of the World” made me realize that Miró is far more than just squiggly lines and arbitrarily placed red circles.

The exhibition of MoMA’s extensive collection of Miró’s work is organized in chronological order—starting with his large-scale paintings and collages with found objects, then gradually evolving into his more mature line drawings and sculptures.

The show encompasses an incredibly diverse body of work in both subject matter and style: Miró took an interest in illustrating children’s books, reworking traditional still lifes, and making installations. The painting that gives the exhibit its name, “The Birth of the World,” is large, evocative and filled with ominous imagery. The background, a chaotic layer of dark and light patches of translucent black paint, sits beneath a series of calligraphic shapes. A triangle in muted ochre floats above several organic lines, and a brilliant red circle creates a sperm-like figure. Miró described this piece as “a sort of Genesis,” which is evident in the twisted depictions of life starting to take form.

Not all of Miró’s work is this somber. One of my favorite pieces, “Final Study for Dutch Interior,” is a whimsical depiction of a small room. Its focus is a distorted cradling a guitar in his arms (perhaps a reference to Miró’s quote “I will break [the Cubists’] guitar.”) The drawing is not the least bit high-flown, the strokes are so vivid I could almost see Miró drawing it. It has a child-like quality: a cartoonish dog sits in the foreground, chewing on a bone; triangles make up the trees in a small framed picture, and rough lines seem to imply the outline of a reclining kitten. These charcoal studies distort what is familiar and turn it into something barely recognizable, thus forcing the viewers to reassess the realness of such a commonplace scene.

Miró’s quirks are littered throughout his pieces; for instance, he placed his signature abstract shapes over a ridiculously pompous portrait of a bourgeois gentleman—an ironic gift from a friend. This sense of humor and astute irony his art much more endearing and genuine.

MoMA’s curatorial team made a conscious choice to present the bits of Miró’s art that are easier to digest—easily likable pieces that are accessible to people who are unfamiliar with surrealism. Walking out, I realized that surrealism is much more than solemn dreamscapes; it can also be sincere, political, straightforward or even playful.

Jiahe Wang is a high school student attending Stuyvesant High School. She writes about art, entertainment, and cultural phenomena. Her interests range from fashion runways to restaurant reviews. She is on the editorial board of Stuyvesant’s student-run newspaper The Spectator