MALLORCA, Spain — Two years before his death, Joan Miró gifted his studio to the city of Palma de Mallorca, Spain, where he had lived and worked for nearly three decades. Set on a piney hill overlooking the Balearic coast, the Taller Sert (named after its architect, Josep Lluís Sert) embodies the Mediterranean landscape and modern design. The studio was Miró’s refuge, and a place where the artist created some of his most important work. Last February, structural damage to the building forced the Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró a Mallorca to close the studio to the public. Over the next 10 months, the Fundació Miró’s Curator and Head of Collections Patricia Juncosa Vecchierini and her team conducted an intensive research and restoration process that reopened the studio with an entirely new view of Miró and his workspace.
The story of the Taller Sert is also the story of a friendship. Miró and Sert met in Barcelona in the early 1930s. Sharing an interest in Mediterranean popular culture and primitive art, they collaborated on local print and exhibition projects. In 1937 they collaborated again at the Spanish Pavillion, co-designed by Sert for the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne in Paris. Featuring such works as Picasso’s Guernica and Miró’s El Segador (The Reaper), the pavilion was seen as a stand against the rising tide of Fascism in Spain and Europe. Miró’s monumental mural of a Catalan peasant clutching a scythe set the stage for his larger works that would eventually require a custom built studio. This work also put him in a politically precarious position with Franco’s regime, which kept him from establishing a long-term studio or home base.
In the ensuing years, the artist and his family moved between France and Spain, narrowly escaping the invasion of German troops in Normandy. Miró considered emigrating to the United States as his friend Sert had done in 1939, but he needed what he called “the poetry and light” of the Mediterranean landscape to create. Finally Miró settled in Palma, his wife’s family home. In Mallorca, the artist would say he was just “Pilar’s husband,” rather than a world renowned artist. His quiet, almost anonymous life allowed him to focus on projects that necessitated a new, larger space. Always her husband’s advocate, Pilar wrote a letter to Sert, then the Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, asking him to create Miró’s studio in Palma.
The Miró commission was Sert’s first project on Spanish soil since his exile. It allowed him to demonstrate his reverence for traditional Mediterranean building techniques and materials in their native context. His design incorporated brise soleils inspired by his work with Le Corbusier in Paris and concrete walls typical of modernist architecture, but wherever possible, Sert used natural, local materials like Mallorcan stone and clay tiles, while the studio’s shelving and furniture were made of local woods and palm fibers. In a 1954 letter Sert assured Miró, “I think you’ll like it … it’s the kind of building that will fit in with the landscape.” Throughout the building process, the artist and architect kept up a warm correspondence intertwining news about family members and friends with construction details and floor plans.
Sert’s design allows air to circulate freely through slatted roof and wall vents, so that the building is never completely closed off from the Mediterranean climate. Without an air conditioning system Miró could work in complete silence, as he preferred. But 60 years of heat and humidity caused structural damage to the studio walls and floors. The studio was closed and emptied of its contents for last year’s repairs, allowing Juncosa and her team to inventory and catalog all of its artworks, objects, easels, furniture, and tools. The team also took the closure as an opportunity to reexamine the studio itself, and to rework the way that Taller Sert would be presented to visitors in the future.
The question was whether the previous set up of the Taller Sert really reflected Miró’s working methods and space. The artist worked privately in the studio, and few people spent time there while he was alive. Studying rare documentary photographs and films that were made of Miró working in the 1970s and early 1980s, Juncosa and her team were able to map the locations of studio furniture, easels, and tools and more accurately position them. Each floor tile was photographed and studied for paint drips, splashes, handprints, and footprints that were then compared to marks on rugs, furniture, and other objects, as well as individual paintings, in order to learn about the placement and execution of Miró’s artworks. They recreated Miró’s original arrangements of postcards, ribbons, newspaper clippings, bones, sticks, stones, shells, Mallorcan siurell ceramic figurines, and other objects from his collections that were were essential to his creative process. Finally, the team spoke with Miró’s family members and others who had known him to better understand his working environment.
Juncosa’s in-depth investigation revealed that Miró utilized his studio space in a much more dynamic manner than was previously shown. Movement was an essential part of the artist’s life, from traveling between countries to walking on the beach, and the studio was no different. There he was often in motion, moving between paintings, which he would lean against and stack atop one another, sometimes laying them on the floor to paint. For conservation purposes, this mode of working would be difficult to replicate: the Fundació Miró’s collection is largely comprised of later work and works in progress — the latter provide rare insight into the artist’s process but can be especially fragile. Reproductions of the canvases were produced by the Fundació under supervision of the Successió Miró and the artist’s family. They were installed according to findings from the historical research to more accurately recreate the simultaneity, intensity, and density of Miro’s workspace.
Miró once said,“I want everything to stay as it is here after I’m gone.” The renovation of the Taller Sert reflects Miró’s wish to preserve and to share. Visitors now enter the space through what was the studio’s storage area, where an introductory video prepares them for their experience. An additional studio viewpoint has been opened, along with a patio that overlooks the space. Miró’s Taller Sert features the original building with its original contents in its original context, right next to the artist’s former home. There are no glass barriers to separate the visitor from the studio, and the natural beauty of the Mallorcan coast makes an indelible impression.
With the restoration, Juncosa and her team saw what Miró saw in 1956: a building waiting to be activated. The Fundació Miró has re-infused the space with artistic energy. A palette with paint that was enclosed in a picture frame after Miró’s death has been returned to its worktable. It feels like Miró will appear at any moment, pick up this palette, and get to work.
Special thanks to Patricia Juncosa Vecchierini, Roser Salmoral Buitrago, and the Fundació Miró Mallorca for their help with this article.
Information about visiting the Taller Sert can be found at the Fundació Miró Mallorca website.