Miró at SAM, 2
I wrote two months ago about the opening at the Seattle Art Museum of the exhibition Miró: The Experience of Seeing. This past Wednesday, we were fortunate to see the exhibition again as part of a small tour group led by Catharina Manchanda, SAM’s curator of modern and contemporary art.
Let me repeat from my earlier post the exhibition description, provided jointly by Catharina and Chiyo Ishikawa, SAM’s curator of European painting:
This exhibition, drawn entirely from the collection of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, offers a fresh assessment of the late period in Miró’s work—a body of work that audiences in the United States have not had the opportunity to fully appreciate. The exhibition brings together over 50 paintings, drawings and sculptures made in the period between 1963 and 1983 that testify to the artist’s ingenuity and inventiveness to the very end of his life. Bold and colorful paintings employing his personal visual language alternate with near-abstract compositions. Although Miró had experimented with sculpture in earlier periods, it is only in the late years that painting and sculpture stand in direct dialogue with each other—a principal feature of this exhibition.
The paintings and sculptures in the exhibition plumb the process of making art, part of Miró’s concern since his earliest works. In his quest to transcend easel painting, Miró expanded pictorial space across vast canvas fields, using an increasingly simplified language to turn accidental or fortuitous motifs into calligraphic signs. In his sculpture, the inspiration of found objects is more overt, linking the work to his Surrealist explorations of the 1920s as well as the sculptural inventions of his contemporary, Pablo Picasso. Miró also employs many of the same forms and signs in his sculpture, as in his paintings, creating a synergy between the two bodies of work. His work during these mature years represents a personal language where painting and sculpture are equally valued.
Catharina is a superb guide, as we learned two Decembers ago when she led us through the exhibition Elles: Women Artists From the Centre Pompidou Paris. She gave us a much better appreciation of both Miró’s art and exhibition’s themes than we obtained on our visit opening night. I won’t try to pass any of that on in this post. Instead, I’ll highlight one aspect.
About halfway through the tour, Catharina brought us into a room that features three large paintings with white backgrounds. She turned to a boy, the youngest member of the audience, and asked what he thought one of the paintings was representing, inviting all of us (who didn’t know the painting’s title) to contemplate this as well. The painting is the one pictured at top.
I knew neither the title nor what the painting depicted, but I was reminded immediately of a famous scene, that of miners climbing the Chilkoot Trail to Chilkoot Pass in order to reach the gold fields during the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898.
An excellent place to learn more about the gold rush is the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, which has a branch right here in the Pioneer Square neighborhood of Seattle. You can follow the miners’ route yourself:
The Chilkoot Trail is one of two main routes to the Klondike that originate in this area. Long before the gold rush, the trail was established by Tlingit people as a trade route into the interior of Canada. Fish, seal oil and seaweed were traded with the First Nations peoples for moose and caribou hides, plant materials and other goods unavailable on the coast.
The most challenging way to follow in the footsteps of the stampeders and natives is by hiking the 33-mile-long Chilkoot Trail, accessible only on foot. It is a difficult hike and usually takes three to five days. The trail begins at the Taiya River bridge near the Dyea townsite and travels over the Chilkoot Pass to Lake Bennett.
But I stray. Here’s what the climb looked like:
What do you think? Is there a resemblance? Could Miró have been painting the climb to Chilkoot Pass?
Apparently not. Miró gave the painting the title Oiseau dans l’espace, or Bird in Space. Nonetheless, I had fun imagining that the two scenes might be connected.