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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Miro's 'Ladder' stands only at the National Gallery of Art

Joan Miro, The Hunter (Catalan Landscape) 1923-1924, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Purchase, 1936

Joan Miro: The Ladder of Escape at the National Gallery of Art is one of the few Miro exhibitions ever staged in Washington, D.C.

The show is big, filling seven galleries on two floors and ends on August 12. 

Many of the artworks by Miro (1893-1983) portray his responses to the horrors of the 20th century: World War I, World War II, and the Spanish Civil War when he lived in France and Spain and witnessed atrocities and their effects.

Unlike those who suffer aftermath of turmoil and destruction over which they have little or no control and are unable for varying reasons to act, Miro, by way of his art, was able to release his emotions and rage.  He defined an artist as "one who, amidst the silence of others, uses his voice to say something."

Joan Miro, Burnt Canvas 2, December 4 - 31, 1973, private collection

The National Gallery quotes him from 1937:  "We are living through a hideous drama that will leave deep marks in our mind."

The curator for the show, Harry Cooper, head of modern and contemporary art for the National Gallery, said the artist used a ladder figuratively as a bridge between Heaven and Earth, between imagination and reality, permitting him to climb up to fantasy and down and become “politically engaged at times."

Hanging at the entrance to Ladder is Alexander Calder’s large and colorful mobile, commissioned for the opening of the East Building in 1978, an appropriate introduction to Miro for the two artists were good friends who shared "an impish quality, a sense of play, a love of adventure," according to critic Stanley Meisler writing in the Los Angeles Times in 2004. 

Joan Miro, The Farm 1921-1922, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary Hemingway, 1987

Upon entering Ladder, visitors face The Farm (1921-22) purchased by Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) as a birthday gift for his first wife, Hadley, and given by his fourth wife, Mary, to the National Gallery of Art in 1987. (One account said Hemingway and Miro used to box together.)

Farm was “a resume of my entire life in the country,”  Miro said.  The complexity of the work and its components, like most of the works in the provocative show, may leave visitors wrestling with questions and meaning, excellent ingredients for discussions which Curator Cooper said he hoped would be one of the show's effects.  It is unlikely that any guest will not have opinions about the contents.  (Check out Object of Sunset.  If this doesn't trigger conversation, what will?  Ladder may be a good place for a blind date, if talk languishes.)

Joan Miro, Object of Sunset, 1936,  Centre Pompidou, Musee national d'arte moderne, Paris, Purchase, 1975

The National Gallery calls Miro’s art  a combination of cubism, abstractionism, and primitivism which resulted in his own style, sometimes called detailism. 

Complementing the exhibition is a film with D.C.'s own Duke Ellington starring in a brief scene in a 17-minute National Gallery production which runs continuously in the show.  The Duke visited Miro in 1966 in France where he composed the impromptu “
Blues for Miro.”

Also offered with the exhibition are talks, a catalogue, and a new Catalan menu created for the Gallery’s Garden Café by Chef José Andrés, the owner and chef at Jaleo.  It includes
escalivada catalana, a roasted vegetable dish with tomatoes which is so tasty it alone, as an export item, might be able to rescue Spain from its economic doldrums, but not to go overboard.  Chef Andres has other delicious treats in store for diners.  You will not want to miss the food (in the West Building) or the show.

The exhibition was made possible by the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation, Buffy and William Cafritz, and the Institut Ramon Llull.  The Tate Modern in London organized the exhibition in collaboration with Fundacio Joan Miro, Barcelona, and in association with the National Gallery of Art.

Gallery talks are scheduled on these dates:

Joan Miró: The Ladder of Escape
July 31, August 1, 2, 8, 9 at 11:00 a.m.
by Diane Arkin, Adam Davies, David Gariff, or Sally Shelburne
East Building, Ground Level, Information Desk
(60 minutes)
What: Joan Miro: The Ladder of Escape

When: Now through August 12, 2012, Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Sunday, 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Where: National Gallery of Art, East Building, Washington, D.C., 4th Street at Constitution Avenue, NW

How much: No charge

For more information: 202-737-4215 or

Metro stations: Judiciary Square, Navy Memorial-Archives, or the Smithsonian

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