“These days … exhibitions are expected to come up with a “take” observed Alastair Sooke when reviewing Tate Modern’s retrospective of Miró last year. Tate represented Miró’s work in relation to its socio-political environment, explaining how the artist’s output is loaded with political influences and responses to Fauvism. Yorkshire Sculpture Park daringly goes against Sooke’s expectations, and present Miró’s creations detached from their exterior manipulations. This fits the style of the park in which works of Gormley, Hepworth and Moore are permanently introduced to the viewer through their relationship first with the landscape, and secondly with the visitor– a refreshing alternative to over-ambitious iPad presentations and overly distracting extensive visitor guides.
Miró’s outdoor pieces are carefully arranged to follow his instruction: “stand[ing] in the open air, in the middle of nature”, with even contextual distractions removed. Rarely is such a collection displayed outdoors when not in the artist’s foundations in Barcelona or Palma de Mallorca ( Fundació Joan Miró/ Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró a Mallorca). The effect of this removes contextual history of each piece, while giving each creation a stage from which to perform. Thus the works express their personalities while the Yorkshire seasons weather the Catalonian expressions. After a contemplative walk interacting with these works, one can easily see Miró striving to make his sculptures a “phantasmagoric world of living monsters” and observe how he succeeded.
The Underground Gallery presents a tightly curated exhibition, which is less of a “take” on the art than an unobtrusive clarification of how Miró’s creativity is dictated by, and later comes to control, the subjects and materials which feature in his sculpture. The first room presents a conflict between two versions of ‘Oiseau lunaire’ (Moon bird) and ‘Oiseau solaire’ (Sun bird). Smaller-than-life models of birds created in 1946 (the first he moulded using clay) are overshadowed by larger-than-life reworkings of the pieces, created 20 years later. It is as if the early work is forced into extinction by the sculptor’s progression. The change in the sculptor’s confidence is noticeable in the larger size of the later work, which could be accounted for by increased finances over than a burst of creativity. However, there is a distinct change in the texture of the surfaces: from the earlier metal roughness which detracts from the form, to a smooth finish which embodies the confidence of the artist. This conflict in the first room – between the earlier rougher works and the later smoothly finished works – immediately prompts the visitor to question “What contributed to such a change?”.
Rather than turning to political and artistic movements for explanation, this exhibition concentrates on the intrinsic changes to Miró’s sculpture. As with the sculptures outside, the works are allowed to speak for themselves. While we learn that Giacometti guided Miró in applying paint to his work, this note is given no greater importance than the observation that Miró owed a debt to anyone he sculpted with. His acknowledgement of and openness to the methods of his contemporary – and most importantly nearby – sculptors meant he became adept at moving between styles and texture. His style not only developed through local colleagues, but his subjects were plucked out of his immediate environments. Miró’s use simple objects, such as bowls, a pebble or a tap, which hand in hand with his respect for his colleagues work, show his “profound respect for humanity and are a homage to the richness of simple living”.
The last museum-like room turns from examining each part of Miró’s creativity in isolation towards a dedication of his whole life. Miró’s biography is told in the form of a timeline which asserts we can which constantly trace his career from tales of early childhood – doodling in school books – all the way through to his last pieces of work. The room itself is surrounded with tools, plasters and other objects found in his studio. Even here, the influence of art movement and politics is downplayed, and the exhibition does not fall back to relying on presenting a “take” to make Miró’s work interesting. However, that refreshing and ambitious move makes Miró’s work accessible, because it allows his work to speak for itself.
Miró: Sculptor runs at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park until 6th January 2013