Spanish surrealist Joan Miró found refuge in the natural world, even during the most turbulent times. In fact, from JFrom January 1940 to September 1941, when the Second World War broke out, the artist devoted a series of 23 paintings on paper to his abstract interpretations of nature and music. “I felt a deep desire to escape,” the artist said of this period, according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “I locked myself in on purpose. At night, music and the stars began to play a major role in suggesting my paintings. The series, known as “Constellations”, is loved by museum enthusiasts and considered by historians to be one of the most important and brilliant works of Miró’s career.
On backgrounds that range from deep midnight blue to the pink tones of dawn, the works are filled with fanciful floating abstract shapes, sometimes reminiscent of musical notes; looking at the paintings, one can easily imagine resounding a great cosmic symphony. But the decidedly happy series has a surprisingly loaded story. Here are three facts about the artist’s acclaimed “Constellations” that might make you see them in a whole new way.
The “constellations” defiantly jubilated amid the chaos of war
Joan Miró’s revealing series emerged against a backdrop of war and chaos. After the end of the Spanish Civil War and the outbreak of World War II, Joan Miró fled with his family to the village of Varengeville-sur-Mer in Normandy, northern France. The series was in a way born of the artist’s frugality in his means of living under constrained circumstances; rather than working on canvas, Miró began to paint on small sheets of oil and tempera paper.
In letters to his dealer, Pierre Matisse, Miró acknowledged that these works were a highlight in his work. When German troops began advancing on France that spring, Miró returned to Spain, where he quietly finished the series in Palma de Mallorca.
The series puts the New York art world in turmoil
-And may have influenced Jackson Pollock
The tumultuous political climate across Europe made it impossible for Miró to present the completed “Constellations” series in France or Spain, so in 1944 the artist had the works shipped to New York. The following year, in 1945, at the end of World War II, the series was finally exhibited at the New York gallery of Pierre Matisse.
The assembly of the exhibition had been tedious. Matisse and Miró had a contract in which the artist owed the dealer his entire production in exchange for a monthly stipend, an arrangement that was complicated by the war. Miró had categorically refused to ship his “Constellation” works one by one, writing to Matisse: “I feel like this is one of the most important things I have done, and even though the formats are small, they give the impression of large frescoes…. I can’t even send you the completed versions because I have to have them all in front of me all the time to maintain the momentum and mental state that I need to make the whole group.
Ultimately, however, the exhibition proved to be a pivotal moment for European artists and intellectuals in exile in the United States, who greeted the work from Europe with both enthusiasm and enthusiasm. Notably, art historians believe that the exhibition had a profound impact on a group of young abstract expressionist artists in New York, in particular Jackson Pollock.
In many of Miró’s “Constellations”, abstract and geometric shapes dance from edge to edge of the paper and without a distinct focal point, with black lines sometimes swirling, connecting the various circles, moons and star shapes – compositional devices similar to “all over” style of drip painting.
The works were meant to be shown together
(But that hasn’t happened for decades)
From the start of the series, Joan Miró has been deeply involved in keeping “Constellations” united. He believed the works depicted his changing mental state during the first 21 months of the war, with each painting taking around a month to complete. Miró believed that in order for the works to be fully understood, they had to be carefully displayed.
Tired of his partnership with Matisse, the artist first tried to bypass his dealer and show the works directly at the Museum of Modern Art. A little secretly, the series was smuggled out of Spain and into the museum. He accompanied the shipment with detailed instructions on how the works should be installed. He noted that the paintings were to be shown together, adding that “they should not be separated under any circumstances.” He also requested that they be displayed chronologically to “explain my evolution and my state of mind. He even explained how the work was to be framed and hung.
But an unexpected setback thwarted this plan. Unable to pay shipping costs, MoMA rejected Miró’s delivery and works were redirected to Matisse, as Miro’s default US representative, who paid for their receipt.
The dealer however disregarded the artist’s instructions and, rather than exhibiting all the works together, Matisse presented a rotating selection of 16 works. To further complicate the presentation, Miró had given a work from the series, The morning star (1940), to his wife, and this piece was never shipped to New York.
The works finally reunited for the first time in 1993, at the Museum of Modern Art’s Miró retrospective. In 2017, Acquavella Galleries, in collaboration with Pace Gallery, once again assembled the collection for the successful exhibition “Calder | Constellations Miró.
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