It’s Monday of the long Jubilee weekend and I have decided to spend the best part of the day exploring the Miró exhibition at Yorkshire Sculpture Park amongst its well trimmed grounds and lush, cloud shadowed fields and parkland where ruptured tree trunks lie horizontally and the brooding Yorkshire landscape is as much of a distraction and crowd pleaser, (the packed café balcony with uninterrupted views attests to this), as the sculpture to which it provides a backdrop. The space here is very efficacious and provocative in regards to looking at sculpture and after heading through the visitor centre I happen upon the first works of the open air section of this Miró – fest that are dotted around the attractive and neatly laid out gardens. It was tempting to wander off into the further reaches but I kept some discipline in my approach. Absent from these outdoors works are the inimitable colours of the paintings most associated with Miró, but they still retain an interest in organic, fluid and suggestive shapes. One, ‘Femme Monument’, consists of an ovoid head balanced precariously on top of a smoothed out, curvaceous rectangle, the body from which it might have been excised, leaving a large oval hole you can stare through. ‘Personnage Gothique’, with its imposing square head (cast from a hatbox) and trunk like legs (actually a cast of a donkey’s yoke) resembles nothing human or animal, rather some new category of being either out of that genre or genetically engineered from gathered trash and an overexcited imagination. Its use of a more darkly toned, almost black metal plays up to the title. Another piece, simply called ‘Personnage’, looks like a cross between E.T. and an owl.

Naturally I did eventually drift and encountered works by several other artists on my travels, Henry Moore’s bronze monoliths that seem simultaneously burdened by an immense weight and light enough to topple with a poke, their metal that has gained knots and furrows through years of abuse by the skittish Yorkshire weather, becoming like wood; then Helen Escobedo’s hallucinatory metal hay bales, named ‘Summer Fields’, that from a distance take on the appearance of heat haze coming off the ground. Their bright red and yellow stands out after being schooled in sober monochrome. Across a bridge and over the lake that lies in the lowest point of the park are David Nash’s ‘Black Steps’ that could be scorched railway sleepers or a strip of torched earth after getting the slash-and-burn treatment.

Personal context and the attitudes of the artist help to inform our appraisal of the art itself and no more is this the case than with Miró where a clear aesthetic reasoning – the casting of unexpected things, household items and found objects, junk basically, collected off the streets, from the countryside, on beaches and in thrift stores – collides with a childlike adventurousness and pure flights of fancy; these pieces formulate their own surreal logic and are also absent of logic. This contradiction shines through in the strange open-air hybrids and also in the Park’s underground gallery that has been divided into four large white, open fronted cubicles. The gallery’s glass frontage means that visitors taking a rest on a facing wall outside can see those inside perusing and face scratching, and vice versa. Miró’s residence in Mallorca is emphasised, many of these pieces were completed on the island, and the influence of the Balearics is evident from the materials used, most of which began life there. In the first three rooms, arranged around the floor space are various pieces of Miró’s sculpture and hanging from the walls a series of large-scale etchings. Ultimately the appeal of these pieces relies on Miró’s sense of spontaneity, the exuberant use of colour (in defiant contrast to the works outside) and the inevitable games of word association that have to be played between the titles of the pieces and the actual objects used to construct them.

One sculpture, ‘Sir and Madam’, uses different coloured stools to represent the sexes, there is one that looks like the bottom half of a lamp post that appears blown out and to have started to melt; another, ‘La Caresse d’un oiseau’, uses footballs, an ironing board, an old outhouse seat, an unwanted straw hat and a found turtle shell that has been painted bright red, all of which serve to represent a naked woman. Many of the sculptures feature the addendum of a tiny bird or molds of shoes. In the corners of the etchings such as ‘Grand triptyque noir’, Miró’s signature practically loops off into an exclamation mark adding to the sense of surprise and improv both in his approach and the viewer’s response. These utilise blocky colours that interact with Miró’s signature breezy line. The final area of this exhibit is a very hushed, darkened room where objects from Miró’s studios in Mallorca are laid out in glass cases and labelled like archaeological finds. On one wall there’s a huge timeline of the artist’s life and some quotes, on others screens where you can view a couple of films about his life and working methods, their cycling means the voiceover is always in the background. This being the last stop is perhaps a deliberate arrangement by the curators; the most interesting way to view Miró’s work is to let it wash over you and look to the facts and mechanics afterwards.

Miró’s outlook and mood in these pieces is fairly constant. His is a playful, deceptively silly and vivid output, but not without its darker undercurrents. The size or strangeness of some of the works is ominous. A perfect example is ‘Oiseau Lunaire’ that purports to be a simple representation of a bird. Its aerodynamic curves that are reminiscent of wings, beaks, plumage and flight put this over, yet it is also horned and bull-like, sexually suggestive, a hostile looking thing with dense mass. It takes on a mythological status, resembling a Mithraic symbol or perhaps carrying a reference to the Minotaur. Many of the works here, through their engagement with the natural world, have pagan characteristics. As a whole they convey a Catalan individualism where the technique of automatic drawing, that perhaps came to symbolise for him a freedom from the political oppression of Franco, clearly carries over into a new medium; this means they appeal as much to adult boys and girls with expensive DSLRs and only confusion towards the park’s new registration recognition pay-parking, as to those demanding ice cream and innocently asking ‘What’s a ‘Gargantua’?’ The bank holiday crowds – couples, families and groups of friends – confirm it. As did the way that the work seemed to captivate those in the under-16 age group.

These sculptures were made late in Miró’s life when he was happily settled at Son Abrines, his home and studio in Cala Mayor, and at a later studio, Son Boter. Their sensuousness reflects the lived life, the immediate surrounds, from the rural landscape – hot, stony fields, traditional gardens or courtyards and the elements – to bustling coastal towns. However, a lingering sense of turmoil and uncertainty from an earlier time seems to inhabit them too (let’s not forget that Miró saw both World Wars and the Spanish Civil War).

From detritus and randominity to a well organised gift shop, where you can splurge on an array of Miróbranded goods, from postcards (a pack of all eight designs for £3.50 was a good offer) and specially produced exhibition guides through to very nice dishes and glassware, apparel and even shoes made by the Spanish footwear company Camper decorated with colourful little Miró splashes, though who knows when you would wear these. I’ll leave aside talk of value categories and rubbish theory here, but it would be interesting to know what the man himself would make of this kind of bourgeois brand extension.

Simon Haworth

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