Miró, Calder, Giacometti, Braque
Royal Academy of Arts, London
FOUR artists, four highly individual voices and all sharing a desire to forge a new, radical language for art in the modern world. They showed their work through the gallery owned by Aimé Maeght, the pre-eminent gallery in Paris following the end of the Second World War. After the dark years of the occupation and the uncertain climate of post-war Paris, Maeght set up his gallery establishing a bold, adventurous spirit in art.
All four artists worked mainly in abstract or non-representational art, less concerned with depicting the world as they saw it, more with how they experienced it. All experimented with non-conventional materials, be they ceramic, print, metal or canvas.
The Catalan artist Joan Miró and the American Alexander Calder shared not only a friendship but also a colourful, playful and poetic inventiveness. Calder, who had trained as a mechanical engineer, made whimsical objects in wire before devising sculptures consisting of floating coloured shapes of painted metal. The suspended mobiles or the ground-based assemblies “stablies”, gently swing in the air, casting intriguing, moving shadows. Making use of his knowledge of weights, balances and kinetics, Calder built ingeniously crafted sculptures that owe something to the planets or molecular systems.
Surrealism was a major influence on Miró’s work, particularly in his abstract dream paintings. A skilled graphic artist, Miró often outlined his work with black to give it greater impact. Some of the most surprising pieces in the exhibition are the ceramics that were made in collaboration with the potter Josep Lloréns-Artigas. Tall, classic-shaped vases were decorated by Miró with abstract marks and lines on a matt, richly coloured surface in a fascinating juxtaposition of symbols that lead the eye round the pot.
Ceramics were also made by George Braque. His dishes, decorated with a flying bird, recall work by Picasso, but have a different, more directed sense of movement – indicators of hope and aspiration. But Braque is best known for his abstracted still-lives and dark brooding interiors. Like most artists, Braque wanted his work to be open to multiple interpretations – what he called “metaphoric confusion”– resisting offering any explanation of them, as he saw this as destroying the poetry of the work.
The sombre, introspective qualities of Braque’s work are also evident in the sculptures of Alberto Giacometti. With an interest in tribal art, Giacometti, working from the live model, created tall, thin figures. His highly expressive form of modelling involved whittling away figurative shapes in plaster or clay and building them up again in an attempt to catch the essence of the sitter. These etiolated, spindle-like figures, seemingly removed from the world, were much favoured by French existentialists writers such as Sartre.
Seeing this work some 60 or more years since it was produced, it is tempting to ask whether, if it had been seen in the Galerie Maeght, we would have recognised its great and enduring qualities. While today, the language developed by all four has become recognised and acknowledged, then it was challenging and controversial – work to provoke, cheer, stimulate and reflect on the aftermath of war. The passing of time has made it part of the establishment, but it is work that still packs a powerful punch.
Miró, Calder, Giacometti, Braque continues until January 2 2009