Collection Spotlight: Constellation Exhibit 1959, Joan Miró

Title: Constellation Exhibit 1959
Artist: Joan Miró
Nationality: Spanish
Date: 1959
Medium or technique: Color lithograph

Credit: Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, 1993.49, Copyright: © Successió Miró / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

In 1919, Joan Miró relocated from his native Spain to France, where he became associated with the Surrealist movement. Fascinated with the Surrealists’ engagement with psychology and their manipulations of form, Miró developed a style based on imaginative allusions to reality and lyrical, fancifully colored compositions. Following the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 and the outbreak of World War II, Miró lived in Varengeville-sur-Mer on the northern coast of France. Living in exile in Normandy provided Miró with an environment where he could work in tranquil seclusion and develop a suite of twenty-three gouache paintings, now known as Constellations. Characteristic of these works are a multitude of forms suggesting stars, crescents, triangles, and the human figure.

The constellations bring to bear Miró’s resolve to defy immense outside pressures by the sheer force of creative freedom. But far from instantiating an escapist fantasy, Miró’s compositions could also hold the capacity for defiance. André Breton of the Surrealists championed Miró’s compositions as a consummate gesture of resistance to the encroachment of totalitarianism, as evidence for an aesthetic idealism that could overcome the disasters of war.

This color lithograph in the Block Museum’s collection was made after the conclusion of World War II, advertising a 1959 exhibition of Miró’s Constellations at the Galerie Berggruen in Paris. Miró collaborated with Breton in anticipation of this exhibition, producing a book that paired the artist’s compositions with poems by Breton known as prose parallèles. The exhibition traveled from the Berggruen in Paris to the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York, where it would have great impact on the Abstract Expressionist generation of American painters.

— Contributed by Tamar Kharatishvili, Block Museum of Art 2017-18 Graduate Fellow in Art History

Block Collection Spotlight invites a closer look at objects in the Block Museum permanent collection from students, staff, faculty, and museum audiences.

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