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Joan Miro at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

As I’m sure you’re aware thanks to my enthusiastic tweets, a couple of nights ago a whole bunch of lovely Leeds bloggers and tweeters were invited to Yorkshire Sculpture Parkto see their latest exhibition: a collection of Jean Miró’s sculpture.

I’ve never been to the Park in the dark before, largely because my main purpose for visiting is generally a lot more picnic related than not. In fact, until a year or so ago I genuinely believed that there were about 30 sculptures in the Park, that never changed, and that was it. But, I live and learn, and I won’t make that mistake again!

After a little welcome chat, we were led through to the Underground Gallery, where most of the collection is housed. We were lucky enough to be given a general overview of the works by Clare, the head curator, who gave us a fascinating insight into Miró’s life and work.

The pieces are as varied as they are surreal; according to Clare, he worked with two different foundries simultaneously, leading to two very distinct types of sculpture. One type is huge, inky black, smooth and so shiny you can see your own, dull reflection within it. The pieces are like cartoonish, obese versions of their subjects: men, women, birds. A few have violent lines gouged into them which look as if they’re done on the spur of the moment, in a sudden, quickly forgotten moment of rage.

In stark contrast are a number of pieces splashed with the brightest of reds, yellows, blues and greens. They are found objects and pieces of junk, brought together into totems resembling an approximate human form – so much taller and spindlier than their shiny black counterparts. One of the galleries had a quote on the wall from Miró, saying: “For me an object is something living. This cigarette or this box of matches contains a secret life much more intense than that of certain human beings.” I could easily see this in his work as he plastered together objects like taps, sponges and cans to make sculptures of the female form.

Finally are a series of raw bronze works, which are smaller and distinctly overpowered by the others. Like the totems they are made from various objects cobbled together, and despite the lack of much finishing, a few of the pieces struck me as remarkable tactile. One had strips of bronze at the back that looked so much like soft, malleable strips of leather in the way they hung that I had to clasp my hands together to keep from touching it.

The curator told us that Miró wanted art to be part of people’s everyday life. Many of his pieces are in major cities, and he lived in the country for most of his life. His work reflects his love of the land, so it was odd really to see so many pieces all in this industrial warehouse style gallery. It felt like the pieces were too big for the rooms; there was too much vitality in them for them all to be cooped up together. I really wanted to see the pieces that were outside, where I felt the setting would be more fitting for the majesty of the larger pieces. Unfortunately, by that point it was far too dark to see them; all I could see were dark shadowy shapes. I can’t wait to get back there to have a good look!

I was left feeling curious about Miró, a man who saved his most ambitious ideas for his latest years. Who wouldn’t want to know more about a man who refused to identify as a Surrealist, so he was free to experiment as much as he wanted with other styles, who wanted to find a way to make four dimensional paintings, and who wrote about the possibility of gas sculpture? His work is colourful, playful and fun, but in the gouged grooves and garish faces is a hint of the depression that he suffered throughout his life.

If you want to find out more about that man, the exhibition is on from 17th March 2012 until 6th January 2013. More info is here.


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