The Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona. Photo by Andy Coughlan

BARCELONA — Perched high on the hills overlooking the Catalan capital in northeast Spain, the Fundació Joan Miró offers breathtaking views both outside and in. The museum, created by Miró himself with works from his private collection, opened in June 1975 with the mission to establish a center for international scholarship about the artist and contemporary art in general.

The building, designed by Miró’s friend Josep Lluís Sert, who had also designed the artist’s studio on Mallorca, allows the bright Mediterranean sun to permeate the building. Using local materials, the building is a combination of traditional Mediterranean architecture and Modernism. Sert was inspired by Le Corbusier, and the building has a central promenade that circles the Olive Tree Courtyard. According to the Fundació catalogue, this “allows visitors to alternate their observation of the art with moments of rest.”

The building is one of the most comfortable galleries I have visited. It is packed with art, yet never feels crowded. The “moments of rest” encourage slow movement, giving one more time to contemplate and truly digest the art — taking the time pays dividends.

This terrace at the Fundació Joan Miró gives visitors a chance to relax with a view of Barcelona. Photo by Andy Coughlan

Miró is a true giant of 20th-century art. For the uninitiated, the Fundació offers the perfect introduction to his career. But if one is already a Miró fan, the chance to spend time in the company of such amazing works expands one’s understanding of his philosophy. Art is spiritual in many respects, and this is not unlike visiting a place of worship.

Joan Miró was born in Barcelona on April 20, 1893, and died on Christmas Day, 1983. His father was a watchmaker and goldsmith, and his family owned a farm in the small town of Mont-roig. Like his fellow Barcelonan, Antoni Gaudi, having an artisan father influenced Miró’s art and philosophy. After initially being drawn to European avant-garde movements — Cubism and Futurism — “he became of the idea of primitivism which he related to (Catalonia’s) cultural roots, to Romanesque and Gothic painting, and to traditional arts,” according to the Fundació catalogue.

“Village and church of Mont-roig” by Joan Miró

In “Village and church of Mont-roig,” from 1919, one sees Miró exploring both the traditional and the modern. The landscape is ornate, bright and colorful, yet it eschews the traditional horizontal format which lends itself to perspective, in favor of a vertical image more in line with the Japanese, using three planes to suggest perspective. The highly-detailed architecture in the top plane clearly references Italian Futurism and French Cubism.

“It is the land, the land. It is stronger than I am. The fantastical mountains have played a crucial role in my life, and the sky too … it is the shock of these forms on my spirit more than what is actually seen. It is the force that nourishes me, the force,” Miró said.

He viewed the land with a sort of poetic mysticism that both reaffirmed his Catalan identity and pushed him toward Surrealism, which he explored when he moved to Paris in 1920 and began attending the studio of his neighbor, Andre Masson, in the company of a group which included Jean Dubuffet. The group believed in unifying painting and the poetic, and Miró broke with representation in favor of the imaginary. In the mid-1920s, the leading Surrealists joined the French Communist party, leading them to reconsider the commercialization of art and the role of the artist. Miró proclaimed his intention to “assassinate painting from within,” according to the critic Maurice Raynal in 1927. Miró forced collage and other objects into his work that was intended to lead to “pure painting” which would capture the spirit of its time.

Miró’s work extended to ceramics, sculpture and even tapestry, a brilliant example of which dominates a high wall in the Fundació.

The fundacio tapestry designed by Miró.

In 1929, following the stock market crash, Miró returned to Catalonia, before returning to Paris during the Spanish Civil War. Miró was not a political painter but did embrace social criticism during that period, painting a mural, “The Reaper,” for the Spanish Pavilion at the 1937 Paris World Exposition (also on display was Picasso’s “Guernica”), and Miró’s art of that period reflected his horror and fear of the state of world affairs.

Miró divided his time between Paris and Barcelona in the years following World War II as his international fame grew. He worked on large murals and sculptures (among them, a five-story-tall sculpture on the corner of Milam and Capitol in downtown Houston), while always exploring ceramics. But his mature paintings, in contrast with what one might expect, became playful and expressive, often simplifying the abstraction to simple dots and dribbled lines.

Joan Miró’s “Sobreteixim With Eight Umbrellas.”

Miró was always a quiet and introverted artist, and the meditative aspects of the work are apparent in these splendid surrounds. The paintings invite the viewer to search deeply for their meaning. The colors are perfectly balanced with the highly graphic line work that characterizes Miró’s best works — and the difference between “best” and the rest is marginal as his entire oeuvre is among the most consistently great of any artist.

The Fundació Joan Miro is the perfect showcase — works of art inside a work of art. It should be on the must-visit list of any art lovers Barcelona holiday.

For more information, visit www.fmirobcn.org/en.

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