“My dream, once I am able to settle down somewhere, is to have a very large studio,” the Spanish artist Joan Miró wrote in “I Dream of a Large Studio,” a 1939 essay for a French art publication. At the time, he was working in small studios in Paris — only a minor improvement on his former work situation in Spain, where he’d painted in “tiny cubicles where I could hardly turn around.”
This dream of a large studio would be realized in 1956, when Miró built a spacious atelier on the Mediterranean island of Majorca, where he’d taken his family during World War II. Designed by his good friend, Catalan architect Josep Lluís Sert, the studio was where Miró spent his most productive years, painting there until his death at age 90 in 1983.
Now, on the 60th anniversary of the studio’s 1956 opening, Barcelona’s Galeria Mayoral has recreated this space in London, complete with furniture and replicas of objects scattered among 25 of the artist’s paintings and drawings on easels.
Much can be learned about an artist’s process from the space in which he or she works. For Miró, seclusion, silence, and open space were crucial. The sheer square footage of this studio freed him up creatively and sped up his artistic evolution. Unlike in his cramped urban workspaces, in Majorca, he was able to lay massive canvases flat on the floor, splatter paint on them with brooms. This led to the more violently expressive paintings of his later years.
The immersive exhibit reveals the artist’s mild hoarder tendencies, providing more anecdotal evidence for the link between creativity and messiness. The walls are hung with unframed newspaper clippings, postcards, large dried leaves, and photographs, including shots of his friend Pablo Picasso and images from Miró’s wedding to Pilar Juncosa. The space is cluttered with palettes of paint and buckets of brushes spread across wooden tables. An empty bottle of Cava wine and Majorcan clay whistles are impeccably recreated by set designers. Also on view are letters between Miró and the architect Sert about the design of the workshop; Sert was in exile from the Spanish Civil War in New York City at the time of the studio’s planning.
This island haven also let Miró retreat from the pressures of art world notoriety. “He settled down [in Majorca],” his grandson told the Observer, “because he wanted to be in peace, left alone from museum directors, collectors, dealers and journalists.” The understated aesthetic of the studio itself reflects this down-to-earth quality; its back wall was made of rough stone, like that of a cave. “My grandfather was a primitive poet, who also always liked to recall that art had been in decadence since the cave men,” Miró’s grandson said.
This studio recreation signals a growing interest in Miró the person, not just Miró the artist. It’s one of 12 exhibits about Miró scheduled around the world from now until 2018.
“When Miró closed the door behind him, he knew he was cutting all contact with the outside world and entering into his imaginary universe,” the artist’s grandson, Joan Punyet Miró, a historian who helped curate the exhibit, said of the studio in a statement. “This imaginary space, his reality, was arranged upon a background of Mediterranean light, colors and shapes.”
One important thing is missing from this recreation: The mummified corpse of Miró’s cat, which he kept hanging on a wall in a room where he found the pet dead after accidentally locking it in. To see the cat mummy, you’d have to travel to Majorca. It’s right where Miró left it on his studio wall.
Miró’s Studio continues at Galeria Mayoral (6 Duke Street, London) through February 12. The studio will travel to Mayoral’s Armory booth at the Armory Show March 3–6.
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