Miró – Tate Modern

I always approach commenting on art with extreme trepidation as I fear that anything I may say will only reveal my ignorance and show that I don’t really understand ‘Art’, with a capital ‘A’, that preserve of highfalutin culture.

There’s a Tracy Emin retrospective on at the Hayward Gallery on the South Bank at the moment, and every time I walk past the gallery the idea that a public space would hold such an exhibition makes me realise that I really do not understand contemporary art at all; not one tiny bit.

And don’t think I’m one of those ‘my five year old could do better’ critics.  I do try; I watched an interview she did with Mark Lawson to try to understand why she is so feted.  It didn’t help.

So with those caveats out of the way, I can tell you I went to the Miró exhibition at Tate Modern last week.

Postcard 'Help Spain' (Private Collection)

I enjoyed it.

Before I went, when I thought of Miró’s work it was largely those large blue canvases with odd round red blobs and stylised creatures set against a bare block of colour, but there was so much more to it than that.

Early in his career his work was characterised by a great degree of detail in landscape.  The detail seems to have disappeared very quickly soon after he encountered members of the Surrealist Movement.  As his colours grew bolder so the works became less and less representational.

As political turmoil and then war engulfed Spain his paintings seem to have become more and more dream like.

I had read reviews of the show before I visited, by people who felt that there was too much social and political history in the story the curators were telling, but for me, the story lover, the historical context added to my enjoyment of the exhibition; to be able to imagine the turmoil in which a person is living while still able to produce work can add texture to my appreciation.

As always, the works which made the deepest impression on me were not reproduced in postcard form… apart from a couple.

Postcard 'Still Life with Old Shoe' MOMA NYC

‘Still Life with Old Shoe’ caught my eye because of the extraordinary colours -even more extraordinary to note that it was painted in 1937.  Somehow that shoe is glowing; but it’s a picture of things falling apart: the apple is stabbed by a huge fork, the bottle is broken, there’s not much bread left.

The Barcelona Series is a collection of 50 black and white lithographs which are fascinating.  Some have some apparent representational element, others rely more on pattern to draw the eye.

They brought to mind a clear memory of my childhood.  I was never very skilled at drawing so would often say that what I had produced was ‘Modern Art’; this generally meant I had drawn a squiggly line around and across the page and had filled in the spaces created within the line with different patterns and colours, sometimes a block of colour, sometimes parallel lines.  I can’t imagine I’d ever seen a Miró, but I think the lithographs would have satisfied my six year old definition of ‘Modern Art’.  There is a very simple and primitive appeal about them.

'The Escape Ladder', MOMA Florence

Towards the end of the exhibition there is a space containing two large triptychs, one sky blue with a line wandering across them, which I think can simply engulf you in colour.  The second one comprises red, green and orange on separate canvasses.

Clearly the choice of the particular tone and shade is key to single colour canvasses, and the red and green reminded me nothing more than the specific red and green lights that are used in eye tests.  This made me wonder what it is about those particular tones and its impact on our vision.  But that is research for another day.

The exhibition is on until 11 September.

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  1. Hello Rowena,

    as usual, a very thought provoking post. I guess art is a fascinating and controversial subject for many reasons, as you yourself have highlighted. What fascinates me in particular is the genus of it all, especially in comparison with writing, for instance, it all being served by the creative process, in many ways.

    I don’t think it possible ever to ‘understand’ art, but I do think it possible to explore it and spend time with it and to let it have an affect upon the person and/or the mind.

    I am very grateful to you for posting the link to the Tracey Emin interview with Mark Lawson as I had missed that. It was fascinating and quite captivating. Although Ms. Emin has received a great deal of bad press over the years (much of it uninformed and reactionary at times), it was good to see her represent herself as intelligent, measured, quite honest about herself and what her motives have been along with her wider sense of how her own work connects with a world she quite clearly understands. I was particularly struck by two things she said that will make me revisit some of her work. She said ‘Being an artist is difficult. It goes against the grain of things.’ And as tellingly, ‘Becoming an artist made sense of a mad world’.

    Both of those sentences made immediate sense to me and struck a chord.

    I did not start to study art at all until my forties, and now I find it fascinating, its history, its meaning, its influence. But what fascinates me also is that link with the creative genus, as writers, painters, artists, sculptors, performers, it is that common source of inspiration that unites and makes one say ‘she thinks a little bit along the same lines as me when she talks about ideas and the processes that kick-start “art” .’

    A really interesting and provocative post. Thank you.


    • Thanks Ingrebourne. I agree that a lot of what TE said was interesting and gave insight into her thought processes and how she reacts to the stimulus around her. The thing that I really struggle with is that none of those ideas reach me through looking at her work. So instead, I try to find other artists who do communicate to me through their work.


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