We all know and love the young Joan Miró (1893-1983). He was the brightest star in the surrealist firmament that graced Paris in the 1920s and 1930s, whether it was with his wickedly witty paintings or his serenely lunatic "poetic objects." But what of his later work? Only a few of the paintings from after World War II measure up, but I found many happy divertissements among the 20 artfully patinated bronze sculptures made between 1966 and 1974 by this versatile Catalan artist and on view in "Miró the Sculptor: Elements of Nature," at Acquavella (through February 29).
As far as I know, all or virtually all of these wondrous objects were conceived, if not necessarily cast, in the artist's native Spain -- to which he had withdrawn more or less permanently with the coming of World War II.
And to judge from the handsome photographic murals with which the gallery's walls are decorated, these geneses would have occurred either at the artist's family estate in Mont-roig, outside Barcelona, or in his studio in Palma de Mallorca, in the Balearic Islands.
The sculptures are all sand and/or lost wax castings, which might be of historic interest but leading to ordinary-enough images in the hands of a less manic artist.
In Miró's case, however, the raw materials are definitely different. Sometimes, the sculpture reveals part of its origin to be just an interestingly-shaped rock – but even in such cases, what's been added comes from a surrealist's bag of tricks, or found objects.
Sometimes the bag of tricks is left to function on its own. There are sculptures made from bits of artfully-shaped clay, scraps of metal and/or wire, an orange crate (with an upright egg on top of it), a ceramic head on top of a vertical column, a baby's high chair, the business end of a garden rake, and assorted shoes (plus old-fashioned shoe trees).
If all this sounds like junk, never fear: the way these artifacts are put together means that every object takes on a human dimension. If it's not just a head, it's a woman of some sort, or a "personnage" – all with or without a bird.
Are these "personnages" male or female? Well, the surrealists were all into Freud. In those days, Freud was popularly supposed to be all about sex, which made for a delightful sense of scandal. Miró had his own little symbols for the male and the female (just as Giacometti did). The male was marked by little protuberance down there, and the female by a little hole – or sometimes quite a large hole. And in this show, the holes are nearly universal.
In "Personnage et Oiseau," for example, the bird is perched, like a little airplane, on the oblong head of the personnage and the big wodge of clay on the bottom of the composition is her body.