Art

Joan Miro and his 'assassination' of painting

by Matthew Larking

Contributing Writer

In 1927, Joan Miro (1893-1983) claimed he wanted to “assassinate” painting. Eventually he hit upon sculpture as a means of doing it. The 14 small-scale sculptures in “Sculptures of Joan Miro from the Asahi Beer Collection” at the Asahi Beer Oyamazaki Villa Museum of Art, focus on the mid-1960s to early ’80s during which Miro deployed ideas developed in his earlier painting career.

As a fauve painter in his teens in Barcelona, Miro went to Paris in 1920, met Picasso, then was ushered into the surrealist circle in 1923 before being formally admitted as a member in 1924. His “dream paintings” from 1925 were intensely colored and with forms made into calligraphic signs that seemingly floated, ungrounded, in pictorial space.

The characterization of his painted forms subsequently shifted from the surrealist unconscious to formlessness in a few years, spurred by the ethnographer Julien Michel Leiris, who called Miro’s “dirtied” calligrammatic paintings “graffiti,” “tantalizing like faded walls on which generations of poster-hangers, allied over centuries of drizzle, have inscribed mysterious poems.” Around 1930, Miro’s slaughter of painting took the form of little collage constructions made from items plucked from garbage cans. The few paintings he concomitantly produced were called “anti-paintings.”

The Asahi exhibition works are concerned with what viewers might minimally take as representations of human figures and animals, especially women and birds, without them formally being abstraction. Indeed, the majority of works have all the vertical frontality of the standing figure, though their cast bronze forms are from the odds and ends of trash. “Personage (Head and Bird)” (1973) has a wonky rake head at its apex. “Figure” (1972) has a toothpaste tube configured atop a dish on top of a plastic bottle. “Figure” (1981) is a large storage pot, capped with cloth and bound with twine. “Doll’s Head and Back” (1966) is a tin can with the head of a doll appended on its opened top, the rest of the doll attached to the can’s side.

Miro’s further representational elements can be easily missed. Inscribed on some works, like “Woman” (1969), are circles for eyes and tears trickling from them. “Head and Bird” (1972) has much the same in the chemically treated surface that was subsequently burned, then polished with beeswax to a glossy finish. These subtle representations demand closer scrutiny, inviting viewers to examine his sculpture for traces of his early years of painting.

Filling out the exhibition are the folk-inspired crafts for everyday use by Japan’s mingei movement affiliates. In the spring of 1950, Miro apparently went to a mingei exhibition staged in Barcelona. Following Miro’s sculptures, then, are sake cups by the ceramist Kanjiro Kawai (1890-1966), “Vase” (1962) by Shoji Hamada (1894-1978), and stencil-dyeing designs by Keisuke Serizawa (1895-1984).

The mingei connection is tenuous, but there is an odd charm in such heady juxtapositions. The museum itself is a wooden Taisho Era (1912-26) luxury villa conjoined to a modern underground concrete structure designed by Tadao Ando called Underground Jewelry Box. And in this, Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies” (1914-17) are permanently on display.

“Sculptures of Joan Miro from the Asahi Beer Collection” at the Asahi Beer Oyamazaki Villa Museum of Art runs until Sept. 1; ¥900. For more information, visit www.asahibeer-oyamazaki.com.