The Grand Palais in Paris is the superb location for an ambitious Joan MIRO (1893-1983) retrospective lasting four months. It’s not the first because back in 1974 the National Galleries of the Grand Palais hosted an exhibition of work by the Catalan artist to mark his 80th birthday. Nearly 44 years later, the Parisian institution has decided to repeat the experience under the curatorial guidance of Jean-Louis Prat, former director of the Maeght Foundation (1970-2005), art historian and member of the Joan Miró Committee. This retrospective will bring together approximately 150 works, which may seem few considering the volume of Miro’s overall production. During his lifetime, Miro produced at least 2,000 paintings, 5,000 drawings and collages, 500 sculptures and 400 ceramics, not to mention a large number of prints. The organisers nevertheless claim that the show will trace the artist’s technical and stylistic evolutions over 70 years of creation in an exhibition of ‘major’ works, some of which – never seen before in France – have been obtained thanks to exceptional loans.
Not an easy task to retrospect on such a prolific artist who was a contemporary of the Dadaists, of Pablo PICASSO, of Henri MATISSE, of Surrealism, and then later of American Abstract Expressionism. The œuvre of this “killer of painting” as he allegedly described himself, covers numerous mutations and perpetual invention. Neither truly abstract nor figurative, Miro was not afraid to plunge into the unknown… to invent a new language that was disarmingly ingenuous and poetic.
In the 1910s, early works by the Catalan had managed to blend Cubism with the intense colours of Fauvism. Although very attached to his homeland, in 1920 Joan Miro left Barcelona to settle in Paris where he encountered the free and creative atmosphere that best suited his character. It was the period of Dada’s ‘sacrilegious’ and anti-bourgeois activities and, later, of André Breton’s ‘automatic creations’ in the 1920s. Miro frequented most of the leading Surrealist artists (Max Ernst, Paul Eluard…) without really wishing to subscribe to their ideas and practices. He nevertheless produced thousands of works during the period, including several masterpieces… fecund paintings, mixing organic and geometric forms.
Research and influences
Miro sought intensity, simplicity, energy and the power of evocation using a wide variety of media: paintings, drawings, ceramics, sculptures, assemblages… among others. He appropriated everyday objects with the same freedom as Picasso; he burned paints (1970s) to obtain new material effects and generally eschewed traditional arts; he explored new printmaking techniques which he considered “a major means of expression, of liberation, of expansion, of discovery”, notably via the Atelier 17 in New York. His freedom of expression appears to have influenced lots of avant-garde artists including the Americans artists Jackson POLLOCK, Mark ROTHKO, Willem DE KOONING and Robert MOTHERWELL.
Recognition during his lifetime
Indeed… the first major tribute to Joan Miro was a MoMA retrospective in 1941. Since then, the artist’s notoriety has been firmly anchored to American soil while being internationally fueled by a string of prestigious awards: the Grand Prize for Printmaking at the Venice Biennale in 1954 and the Guggenheim Foundation’s Grand Prize for his murals at UNESCO. In 1962, France made him a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour and in 1966 he received the Carnegie Prize for Painting. In 1980 he was awarded Spain’s Gold Medal of Fine Arts. Meanwhile, his works were the subject of numerous exhibitions including a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris. In 1975 the Joan Miró Foundation was created in his honour in Barcelona, crowning a long and prestigious career, with an initial base of no less than 5,000 works.
A robust market
With such a dense production, Joan Miro’s is a robust market that has been fueled by particularly good quality works in recent years. Since the year 2000, his works have generated no less than 154 results above the million-dollar threshold, including 20 above the $10 million threshold. Recently, the prices of his later works have been climbing, catching up with the price levels of the 1920s Surrealists.
The most remarkable results of the past 10 years have been the sale in 2008 in New York of La caresse des étoiles for $17 million, although Christie’s had already sold the painting for under $12 million just four years earlier. Plus $4 million in just four years is a good investment!
In 2012 in London, Sotheby’s sold a 1927 masterpiece Peinture (Etoile Bleue) for $37 million, his best auction result to date. Indeed, 2012 was a historic year for Miro’s market, with an annual auction total of nearly $135 million.
Five years later, in 2017, Sotheby’s hammered a new record for a drawing by the artist when his Femme et oiseaux, a later work (1940), fetched $31.5 million. A mixed-technique on paper of modest dimensions (38 x 46 cm), the work is part of his Constellations serieswhich consists of only about twenty works (the numbers differ according to which biographer you read).
Although Miro’s market is particularly dense – 1,200 to 1,300 lots sold each year – it is mostly driven by prints (more than 90% of lots sold). About 60 drawings are sold each year and a handful of works on canvas (less than 30) complete a mostly American market in terms of value (64% since 2017) but very international in terms of transactions. Miro’s works can be acquired in Spain, France, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands, Hong Kong and even Finland… and every year, they find their way into new private collections.