Joan Miró’s Majorcan Studio Recreation Brings the Spirit of the Spanish Surrealist to The Armory Show
In January, London’s Mayoral Galeria d’Art recreated a version of Joan Miró’s Majorcan studio in its Duke Street space, and this week repeats the project at its booth at New York’s Armory Show. Working with the Barcelona-based theater design firm Taller dels Castells, the gallery has reproduced ephemera and furniture from the atelier, complementing paintings and drawings sourced from private collections, alongside archival material, including documentary footage and letters.
“We are reinventing the form of traditional shows in galleries,” said gallery director Jordi Mayoral. “We are here to share the know-how of Miró, and to discover new perspectives. We think that if we want to protect his legacy, we have to be like him.”
Miró’s Majorcan studio, aspects of which appear at Mayoral’s booth on Pier 92, holds a cornucopia of objects: an earthenware pitcher, a rag doll, and a rake as well as toys, clay whistles, and palm trees. Amid the ephemera of family photographs and shells collected along the Balearic coast, a working space of easels, paintbrush pots, and a carelessly splattered floor emerges. The paintings, displayed formally or leaned against the wall, have stretched the three-dimensional world into ludic and wiry bodies on canvas, or sepulchral faces on cardboard. Some evince colorful swashes that fill their frames, others are gestural and monochrome, or are simply splatters of paint, bubbles of inspiration having risen from the artist’s subconscious.
In 1954, the Spanish Surrealist, then 60 years old, bought property in Cala Major, a resort just outside the Majorcan capital, Palma. “To divide my time between here and Paris…would be perfect for my work and health,” he wrote in a letter that year. Working with his wife, Pilar Juncosa, he instructed Barcelona architect Josep Lluís Sert to create a building whose outside was inspired by Mediterranean architecture. Inside, a large, rectangular room swam in natural light, while an L-shaped balcony allowed the artist to survey his work from above.
According to Miró’s grandson, art historian Joan Punyet Miró, the artist’s original studio contained a “motley array of objects” on a built-in workbench alongside one side of its entrance. “He had pieces from Papua New Guinea, from New Caledonia, from Alaska, and then he picked up bits and pieces from the mountain and the beach,” said Miró in an interview at Mayoral Galeria d’Art. “All these shapes, the poetry he read, the music he listened to…it made him a person who didn’t fall into repetition and everyday work.”
Items sourced for the Duke Street incarnation and the Armory booth include shells, roots, hatpins, and postcards, along with magazine and newspaper clippings. On the day I visited the former, there were also a variety of traditional objects strewn around: “siurells” (little painted clay whistles) from Majorca, a black clay “càntir” (or earthenware pitcher) from Verdú, a “forca” (a typical rake of Catalonia). “The furniture is very typical of Majorca, and very typical in Catalonia,” said Mayoral. Taller dels Castells recreated Miró’s floor using terracotta vinyl, while they reproduced photographic imagery of the studio wall on PVC canvas. The firm trawled antique shops for furniture and restored what they unearthed; others items were bought new and purposefully aged.
Due to the polymorphous nature of Miró’s work, it is sometimes unclear how these elements seep into all his paintings. But work like Woman and Birds (1966) resonates obviously with the circular daubings of what appears to be a Papua New Guinean mask; Animated Landscape, made between 1971 and 1976, clearly has the outline of a ladybird-style toy.
Alongside the paintings, Mayoral Galeria d’Art also exhibits correspondence between Miró and Sert concerning the studio’s creation. The abundance of letters attests to the artist’s enthusiasm. “Being able to see the entire studio space from the balcony strikes me as an excellent idea,” reads one dated November 1954. Elsewhere, there is an image of Miró staring into space from his balcony, displayed in the project’s catalogue. In the picture, the painter is framed close to a traditional wicker sun hung from the ceiling. His eyes seem unfocused, apparently in thought.
“It’s difficult to bring the spirit of an artist, but it was very important to understand the artist’s creative process,” said Elvira Cámara, curator of the Mayoral Galeria d’Art project and director of Majorcan museum Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró. “When you go to a show you usually see the paintings and nothing else. Here you can see them in a different atmosphere.”