Nov 1, 2008

Joan Miró: Painting and Anti-Painting 1927-1937

opens on Sunday November, 2, and remains through Jan. 12 at the Museum of Modern Art; (212) 708-9400,

Miró, Serial Murderer of Artistic Conventions

Published: October 30, 2008
Art Review | Joan Miró at MoMA

Amputate tradition, torture the past, terrorize the present. The impulse to destroy was part of what made early Mart the guerrilla movement it was.

Cubism sentenced illusionistic art to the Death by a Thousand Cuts. Dada unleashed an anti-aesthetic Reign of Terror: Beauty? Off with its head. Decay? Let’s have more. Surrealism, a slippery business, let the killer instinct run amok. Tossing manifestos, dreams and libidos like bombs, it aimed to bring Western civilization to its knees and keep André Breton in the news.

So in 1927, when Joan Miró said, “I want to assassinate painting,” he wasn’t saying anything new. What was new was the way he carried out his cutthroat task. That process is the subject of “Joan Miró: Painting and Anti-Painting 1927-1937,” an absorbing, invigorating and — Miró would be mortified — beautiful show at the Museum of Modern Art.

The exhibition illustrates, step by step, exactly how Miró stalked and attacked painting — zapped its conventions, messed up its history, spoiled its market value — through 12 distinct groups of experimental works produced over a decade. If, in the end, painting survived, that’s neither here nor there. The story’s the thing. Crisp, clear and chronological, the show reads like a combination of espionage yarn and psychological thriller set out in a dozen page-turning chapters.

In 1927 Miró was 34. He was a successful artist and an early devotee of Surrealism, working in a polished, fantastical-realist mode. But he had a restless temperament and lived in provoking times. The high-flying 1920s were winding down, the political climate was growing tense. Surrealism, he discovered, had limitations. He was ready for a radical change in art, but he realized that he would have to create it himself. He decided it would take the form of a crime. Painting would have to go. He would deliver the blow.

How to start? With dissection, which entailed taking painting apart, piece by piece, and throwing out essential things. This is what we see happening in the seven stark abstract paintings that open the show, all done in Paris in January to mid-February of 1927. The pictures look intact enough, with their handwritten phrases and clouds filled with dots, until you notice that something is missing: paint, or all but a minimal amount of it. Most of each picture is raw, untouched canvas on which the words and clouds drift like flotsam from a ship gone down.

read the full review