Throughout his career, Joan Miró created numerous notable artworks that earned him worldwide critical acclaim. He was never the one to play by the book and by rubbing shoulders with the most famous creatives of his generation; Miró was open to the influence of any works of art, movement, manifestos, and schools. Nevertheless, his work breaks away ingeniously from that of his generation, invariably following its own distinct and personal trajectory.
What makes his work stand out
The use of different colors in the mosaic brings out the vibrancy that is his style of art. All the artwork associated with Joan Miró speaks the language of simplicity, generous use of color and simple shapes. More than four decades after his first outdoor work of art, the works of Joan Miró, located in various parts of the world, are enjoying facelifts of massive proportions.
Some of the artists’ works were designed to be walked over in public places. This did not at all bother the artist. In fact, the reality that it would undergo faster wear and tear and thus be restored regularly could have been inspiring to him.
Working with Josep Llorens Artigas
To understand how Miró’s large scale works came about, we first have to take a look at his relationship with his ceramicist friend known as Josep Llorens Artigas. They collaborated on various projects, putting many of the large pieces together.
They went ahead to realize a large group of ceramicceramic projects, some of which were included in the UNESCO building in Paris, Harvard University in Cambridge, Kunsthaus Zurich, and the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.
Joan Miró Ferra was born on April 20, 1893, while Josep Llorens Artigas was born on June 16, 1892, both in Barcelona. The two artists are known for their successful period of working together, but they have different paths before they crossed.
When he was 14, Joan Miró enrolled in a business school in his hometown of Barcelona and attended La Lonja’s Escuela Superior de Artes Industriales y Bellas Arts. After completing his three years of art studies, he took up a position as a clerk, which he abandoned and moved into arts after experiencing a nervous breakdown.
He attended Francesc Gali’s Escola d’Art between 1912 and 1915 and, in 1918, staged his first solo exhibition. Miró moved to Paris two years later, where he met with his countryman and artist Pablo Picasso. He left Spain in 1936 due to the civil war but returned in 1941.
Josep Llorens Artigas
Josep Llorens, on the other hand, enrolled in Escola d’Art circa 1913, where he met Joan Miró and became friends. In 1924, Artigas moved to Paris and opened his own studio on the rue Blomet. Due to financial problems, he collaborated with the brothers Pierre and Jacques Prevert and Aurenche on advertising films. He moved back to Spain in 1936 to teach ceramics at the Escuela Massana.
Due to their earn friendship in Paris and Barcelona, Joan Miró and Josep Llorens set off their long productive collaboration on ceramic vases around 1944. In 1953, they moved into Artigas’s studio in Barcelona’s outskirts in a small village called Gallifa.
Artigas’s studio was packed with pots and vases that had been slightly discolored or misshapen during the initial phase of the firing process. Joan Miró was fascinated by the unique hues and irregular forms of these crafted items. Picking up one vase, Miró started to paint it directly on its surface, while Artigas produces a series of special glazes for him to use.
It was an unlikely union: One was a painter and the other was a potter – which meant their works were signed by both of them.
Artigas’s unique firing techniques imitated the slow firing process and wood-burning kilns from primeval Greeks. According to him, the smoke, fire, and earthen clay preserved the element of the integrity of the ceramics.
The two artists focused on the contrast between the rigidity of the material used and the naïve drawing made with sinuous lines.
Joan Miró’s mosaic pieces in Barcelona
If you have ever been to Barcelona, you must have walked over one of Joan Miro’s mosaics. In 1968 he pledged to create three pieces of art that he would donate to the city of Barcelona, where he was born. They were installed in prominent places such as the airport and the center of Barcelona’s Rambla, where he permanently incorporated his work into a pavement.
All mosaic & ceramic murals
|Spain||Barcelona||El Prat Airport||1970||10 x 50 m||earthenware|
|Spain||Barcelona||La Rambla||Pla de l’O||1976||7,81 x 8,33 cm||mosaic|
|Spain||Barcelona||Museo Nacional de Arte de Cataluña||IBM Mural||1978||280 x 870 cm||earthenware|
|Spain||Barcelona||Joan Miró Park||Dona i Ocell (Woman and Bird)||1982||22 m x 3 m||concrete & concrete|
|Spain||Madrid||Palacio de Congresos de Madrid||Wall of the Conferences and Exhibitions Palace of Madrid||1980||stoneware||950 x 5950 cm|
|Germany||Ludwigshafen||Wilhelm-Hack Museum||Miró Wall||1979||10 x 55m||7,200 ceramic tiles|
|France||Saint-Paul de Vence||Fondation Maeght||Wall of the Fondation Maeght (Mur de la Fondation Maeght)||1968||200 x 1225 cm||earthenware|
|USA||Wichita, Kansas||Ulrich Museum of Art||Personnages Oiseaux (Bird People)||1978||8.53 m x 15.85 m||venetian glass and marble|
|France||Paris||UNESCO building||The Wall of the Moon (La Luna)||1955–1958||2.20 m x 15 m||ceramics|
|Spain||Palma||Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró a Mallorca||Untitled||1992||464 x 970 cm||ceramics|
|Spain||Palma||Parc de la Mar||Parc de la Mar||1983||ceramics|
|Spain||Palma||Cafeteria Fundacio Pilar i Joan Miro||Untitled||1992||262 x 1152 cm||ceramics|
|USA||Cincinnati, Ohio||Cincinnati Art Museum||Mural for the Terrace Plaza Hotel||1947||259.1 x 935.4 cm||oil on canvas|
|Switzerland||St. Gallen||University of St. Gallen||Untitled||1964||29 x 1.1 m||ceramic plates|
|Japan||Osaka||Expo '70 (Suita)||Rire innocent (Mur pour l'exposition d'Osaka), Innocent Laughter (Wall of the Osaka Exhibition)||1970||500 x 1200 cm||earthenware|
|USA||Cambridge||Harvard University. Caspersen Student Center dining room||untitled||1960||ceramics|
|Spain||Araba||Entrance hall of ARTIUM - Basque museum-Center of Contemporary Art||Mural de la Cinémathèque de Paris||1972||450 x 400 cm||ceramics|
|France||Paris||UNESCO building||The Wall of the Sun||1958||15 x 2.20 m||585 enamelled, painted and kiln-dried plates|
|USA||New York||Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Frank Lloyd Wright building||Alicia||1965–67||249 x 580 cm||ceramics|
Miró’s Wall of the Barcelona Airport, 1970
Barcelona is one of Europe’s art centers, and for those visiting via air travel, you don’t have to venture any further into the city to find the first artistic proof. You only have to step off the plane to find the first exhibit – the mural at Barcelona Airport by Miró and Josep Llorens at the airport’s Terminal 2. The mural was executed by Llorens in 1970 and consists of more than 4,800 glazed ceramic slabs, standing 10 meters high and stretching 50 meters.
The story of this airport mural is similar to the other two Miró sculptures in the city of Barcelona, Woman and Bird and Mosaic del Pla de I’Os. The Barcelona City Council approached Miró to create one of his famous ceramic murals to welcome visitors to the city who arrived at the airport. Miró loved this idea so much that he suggested two more murals in addition to the first so that they can welcome visitors to the city who arrived by air, land, and sea. Therefore, the Pla de I’Os Mosaic is supposed to welcome visitors who came to the city by sea while the 60 meters tall Woman and Bird offers the same gesture but for those entering Barcelona through the land.
Once again, Miró worked with Llorens for this mural, and they stayed true to their meticulous and reflective style. The final painting consists of Miró’s signature, brightly colored ceramic pieces. Joan would spend a lot of his time creating the robust mosaic. However, unexpected details and tones emerged during the firing of the murals in the kiln, which enthralled the artists.
Such details take a lot of time to preserve, making facelifts of the various art pieces rather time-consuming. For instance, the airport mural took a record 9 years to restore, but the outcome is worth every second spent.
Pla de l’Os, Barcelona
This colorful pavement was designed by Miro and executed by Joan Artigas in 1978 and serves as a symbol that ushers in visitors coming into Barcelona through the sea.
The work is called the Pla de I’Os Mosaic or Paviment Miro and is located in Pla de la Boqueria, on Rambla de Barcelona. The mosaic was implemented by Artigas with the support of Escofet workshops, which specializes in terrazzo pieces.
Thousands of people walk over this piece of work every day – some take notice and stop to look while others don’t realize it.
For historians, however, this spot is nothing but a significant historical location. Legend has it that Cunt Berenguer IV brought a gat from Almeria as a war memento. The stunning arabesque structure replaced another equally historical gate of Santa Eulalia and was named Boqueria Gate. But during the demolition of the city gates, the Boqueria Gate vanished, living behind an open space that today is Pla de I’Os.
For Miró, this location also had personal sentiments. He wanted to install one of his works into the pavement near Passage del Credit, his birthplace. Miró wanted passers-by to step on the mosaic as they go about their businesses and wasn’t worried about it getting ruined.
However, after years of thousands of people stepping on it every day, the cobblestones started to deteriorate and the vivid colors faded. In 2006, the city council of Barcelona did restoration work on the mosaic during its 30th anniversary.
In line with the artist’s style, the mosaic comprises circular forms representing the cosmos and depicts entry into the city through the sea. Its primary colors – blue, red, and yellow, as well as its simple forms, are reminiscent of Miró’s language – an innate language that retains the limpidness of the infancy world.
In 1978, Miró teamed up again with Joan Gardy Artigas to create a mural for the entrance of the IBM headquarters in Barcelona. However, it was later moved to the National Art Museum of Catalonia.
Like any other Miró’s painting, this mural is quite large, at 2.80 by 8.72, and comprises 406 refractory stoneware tiles. The composition of the painting includes some brightly colored figures – red, yellow, green, and blue – outlined by dark lines.
The set rests on a stroke of black paint that runs from end to end of the mural and drops splashes and drips. As with other collaborative works between Miró and Joan Gardy or Llorens Artigas, this mural also features signatures at the bottom right, for Miró, and bottom left for Gardy.
The two artists were commissioned in 1978 to create a sculpture for the entrance of its proposed headquarters. While the architect, Jose Antonio Coderch, would disagree with the IBM about the project and thus not carrying it out, Miró and Gardy did their part of the order and took about six months to complete the mural. In 1994, the IBM building was bought by the Generalitat de Catalunya, who turned it into the headquarters of the Department of Education.
In 2013, a group of restorers relocated the work to a heritage center. The entire process was supervised by Gardy Artigas with the help of the Center for the Restoration of Movable Property in Catalonia. The restoration process began on June 27, 2013. By November 28, 2013, the mural was presented at the National Art Museum of Catalonia, in the presence of Gardis along with Ferran Mascarell and Irene Rigau, ministers of culture and education, respectively.
Up there, Miró must be very happy. He liked to think he was creating the works so that everyone could see them. And this mural, which he enjoyed creating, was locked inside a building, and people couldn’t even see it from the street.
– Gardy Artigas
When you look at this mural closely, you will notice that it is subtly divided into two halves. This is probably because of disagreements between IBM and Miró. The artist wanted the mural to be installed at the entrance to the headquarters without any visual element covering it, but IMB wants the countertop to go to the center, which would be right in front of the mural. Because of this, Miró only painted the upper sections of the work since the lower part would not be seen due to the attention board.
Woman and Bird, Barcelona
The Woman and Bird sculpture is the last work of art done by Miró in the series that he had purposed to welcome travelers arriving into Barcelona. Created between 1982 and 1983, Woman and Bird is located in the Parc de Joan Miro near the Placa d’Espanya, one of the most popular entry points to the city by those arriving by car on the Carrer de Tarragona road. Despite being one of the artist’s most important pieces, he was not present when Woman and Bird was launched because he was ill at the time and eventually passing on a year later.
His friend and work partner Joan Gardy Artiga was tasked with doing the tile work on the sculpture, bringing it to life with vivid colors. Women were a recurring motif in Miró’s work, along with the bird, and in this instance – regardless of the clearly phallic shape of the 22 meters tall statue, the straight-up black tear represents the female form.
In Catalan, the word bird or ocell can be used to mean penis. In this sculpture, it can be seen in its phallic shape, which has a hole through the glans. It is decorated in primary colors and features a vulva shaped split down the side of the shaft, which is also lined with dark tiles.
The park where the sculpture is installed is a popular spot for many tourists and locals to relax. The park is also sometimes called Parc de l’Escorxador, which means Slaughterhouse Park as the site was previously a slaughter site.
There is an extraordinarily exotic quality about Woman and Bird. The artist enhanced the artwork by using one of his well-known eye creatures and also took an entirely new direction with it, as can be seen with his choice of colors.
There are light purple stripes on the black surface in the sculpture, a shape that resembles an African shield, and different shades of orange and yellow against a broken surface. This constitutes a variety that is not common in most of Miró’s sculptures. The statue also contains a very small number of geometrical shapes, whose overlaps provide it with a primeval posture, so it appears highly subjective as well as universally meaningful.
Palacio de Congresos de Madrid
Created in 1970, Palacio de Congresos is a large mosaic on the façade of the Palacio de Congresos. The large congress hall can hold up to 2,000 people and is located on the Paseo de la Castellana street, close to the Bernabeu Stadium, in the Spanish capital Madrid.
The building has been a venue for many historical events, including vote tallying during the Spanish general, municipal, and regional elections and used as the data center for the 1982 Football World Championship held in Spain. It has also hosted the historically important OSCE meeting that led to the fall of the infamous Berlin Wall.
The conference has been empty since 2012 as commercial activities were suspended to allow the venue to undergo renovations to comply with the safety regulations and applicable laws of the city of Madrid. When it reopens, the building will be home to the United Nations World Tourism office (UNWTO).
Wilhelm-Hack Museum, Ludwigshafen, Germany
Miró also created a piece of art for the Wilhelm Hack Museum in Ludwigshafen, Germany. The artwork is called Miró Wall and is essentially a ceramic tiled wall 55 meters wide and 10 meters tall and comprising up to 7,200 tiles.
The tiles were fired in Gallifa, a village near Barcelona where Miró’s studio was located and transported some 1,200 kilometers to the museum in Ludwigshafen. Because of the challenging topography, the tiles were placed in a box so a mule could carry them down the hill. Then, they were shipped by a lorry and a train.
The mural was designed by Miró but produced by his collaborator Joan Gardy Artigas, who created the 7,200 tiles according to the design by Miró that included surreal animals and figures. The design that the mural was based on was one-tenth the scale of the final wall. Using the sketch, Artigas outlined each section on separate 20 by 36 centimeters tiles. The final wall was completed in 1979, and it features the signatures of both Mir and Artigas at the bottom left-hand corner.
Alicia (1965 – 1967), Guggenheim
Slightly over a decade after creating his first mural in the United States for the Harvard Graduate Center, Miró and Artigas returned to create Alicia.
Completed at Artigas’s atelier in Gallifa, Alicia is a mural consisting of 190 separate ceramic tiles, currently permanently installed at the Guggenheim’s Frank Lloyd Wright building.
Miró was contacted by Thomas M. Messer, then the director of Guggenheim Museum, to commission a fitting memorial for Harry F. Guggenheim’s wife, Alicia Patterson Guggenheim, who died at 56 years old.
Alicia Patterson was a journalist and founder of Newsday, an American daily newspaper from Queens, New York. She was the editor of the magazine and transformed it into a respected Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper.
The abstract composition of the mural features the name Alice instead of Alicia. And while Messer tactfully tried to correct the misspelling, Miró strangely resisted. Miró was delighted to work on this project, writing to Messer in 1966, saying:
I am delighted to tell you that the great mural has already been started. I am very hopeful about the results of this first stage. Let’s hope that our great friend Fire (he was noting the significance of the firing process to the final mural) will also bring us his richness and his beauty for the next step.
Wichita State University campus
Personages Oiseaux or Bird People is one of Miró’s largest pieces of works created between 1972 and 1978 and installed in Wichita, Kansas, in the US. The artist created the artwork for Wichita State University’s Edwin A. Ulrich Museum of Art campus. Although the mural fabrication was finished in 1977, Miró did not consider it done until its installation was complete.
This is the first and the last glass-and-marble mosaic public work created by Miró, and though he wanted to make many others, he died before realizing this goal. He even didn’t attend the mural’s inauguration due to the injuries he sustained after falling at his studio in Palma.
Taking up the museum’s entire south wall, the 8.53 m × 15.85 m (28 ft by 52 ft) mural consists of a million pieces of marbles and Venetian glass. They were mounted on treated wood and appended to the wall by an aluminum grid.
The mural was a gift to the school by Miró, and some of the costs were met by donor groups and the Ulrich Museum. It was put together in Ateliers Loire by an artisan using Miró’s sketch and fabricated under the artist’s personal supervision. The mural was completed in 1977 and was shipped to Wichita State University and installed in 1978.
Miró was very much pleased with the final mural, saying:
It fills me with pride to see the great reception of the mural by the students and people of Wichita, who are the people of the future. Though the work was a gift, Miró took a nominal payment for the model painting.
Since the piece was an outdoor structure, it disintegrated due to high winds, lightning, thunder, and fluctuating temperatures. In 2017, the then museum director Patricia McDonnell asked Missouri-based conservator firm Russell-Marti Conservation Services to develop a conservation plan to not only restore the original glamor but also retain the integrity of the artwork. It took the company three years to study and test various methods and materials suitable for restoring the murals.
The process officially began in 2011 where the first few panels were of the mosaic were removed and transported to the company’s studios.
The firms worked with Ateliers Loire to create replacements for the broken or missing broken tesserae. They replaced the original backing of the mural, made from marine-grade particleboard, with a perforated stainless steel panel. Each tessera was cleaned using scalpels, dental tools, and brushes.
The reinstallation of the mural began in September 2016. On October 30, the University hosted a party to mark the restoration.
Now that its long restoration process is complete, the mural sparkles once again. [Joan] Miró’s passion for inspiring individuals through public art is what led him to create this world-class artwork – we are thrilled to carry that passion forward with his mural, inspiring generations to come.
The Wall of the Moon (La Luna), UNESCO building, Paris
The Wall of the Sun and Wall of the Moon are murals created by Miró for the UNESCO building in the French capital. Just like his previous works, these two murals were created in collaboration with ceramist Josep Llorens.
Completed in 1955, the paintings were originally placed on the Place de Fontenoy. However, they later were enclosed inside a building that was still under construction to prevent acid rain damages.
Before the two murals were created, the UNESCO’s Committee for Architecture and Works of Art, along with the Committee of Artistic Advisers, contacted eleven artists to help decorate its headquarters in Paris, which was to be opened in 1958.
Miró was among the eleven artists and tasked with decorating the building with a ceramic wall. The two artists were granted permission to work on the exterior walls of the conferences, two perpendicular walls measuring three meters high and seven meters long.
Together with Llorens, they created two walls that were initially placed outside the building, calling them The Wall of the Sun and The Wall of the Moon. However, afterward, the two murals were covered to prevent them from damage caused by the elements.
Before designing the murals, they were market out into the scale, using charcoal and gouache in Miró’s studio in Gallifa. It took 35 batches, 4 tons of sandstone, 25 tons of wood, and 200 kilos of enamel to create the two murals.
The wall plaques were assembled in Paris, where the UNESCO buildings were being constructed. During the painting process, the lines of drawings were done in a single stroke for particular figures in order for the complete murals to retain their dynamism, which are the most important components in the creation of colors and shapes.
The pair of mosaic murals were assembled in their place by technicians under Miró and Llorens’ supervision. The Wall of the Sun even won the Biennial Prize of the Guggenheim Foundation. The Wall of the Sun represents life or day, while The Wall of the Moon talks about night or death.
The shades used in The Wall of the Moon appear to be darker than those used in the Wall of the Sun. And though black is used in both paintings, it only stands out in the moon painting. Viewers are first attracted to the Wall of the Moon because of the blue element on the left of the mural and the bird that seems to fly across the painting. The bird is one of the most common and recurring themes in Miró’s works. Here it serves as an intermediate between earth and heaven.
Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró a Mallorca, Spain
Although he was born and bred in Barcelona and grew up as an artist in the French capital, Mallorca (Majorca) and Miró were bonded for eternity after falling in love with the island and its people. His mother, as well as his wife, Pilar Juncosa, were also Majorcans. They would live on the island from 1956 until he died in 1983.
Miró and Pilar created the Miró Mallorca Foundation in 1981. Later, the museum building was designed by Rafael Moneo and constructed in 1992. The museum houses more than 6000 works donated by Miró, including numerous paintings and sculptures and a sculpture garden.
Miró’s presence in the region goes further. When you walk through Palma, you will come across three works by him – two sculptures, one at the foot of the Royal Palace of the Almudaina and a mosaic (Parc del Mar).
St. Gallen University, Switzerland
Established in 1898, the University of St. Gallen is a research institution located in St. Gallen, Switzerland. In 1963, the university moved to a new complex designed by architects Georg Otto, Walter Foerderer, and Hans Zwimpfer in Brutalism style. The new campus is located on top of Rosenberg hill, overlooking the old town of St. Gallen and providing an impressive view of the Alpsteinmountain massif.
The new campus is known for its striking integration of art and architecture. The main building, designed by Foerderer, is regarded internationally as a perfect example of 1960s architecture. Art is a central feature of the overall design.
There are several artworks in the Library Building, completed in 1989, to balance the assortment of architectural forms narratively. Among the art pieces in this building, Giacometti’s sculpture in the center of the Tete, Miró’s painting, and Alexander Calder’s work. All this combination of work of art and the building architecture took an ingenious effort to pull off.
Joan Miró’s mural is located in the middle of the room amidst the sharp concrete pillars. The piece was created in collaboration with Josep Llorens and stretches the entire length of the room as if to form a continuation of the narrow ribbon of windows.
It can come as a surprise that Miró’s painting is placed in the background at St. Gallen, more so in a secluded location away from the main hall. However, that is exactly what the artist wanted – to allow his mural to come into its own with the building’s architecture.
Mural for the Terrace Plaza Hotel
The 18-story Terrace Plaza Hotel was a mixed-use building located in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio. It was built in 1942 as one of the groundbreaking examples of modernism.
The interior décor of the hotel was accented with some pieces of modern art, though they were later removed and taken to the Cincinnati Art Museum. The artworks included the striking mural by Joan Miró, supposed to be the focal point for space, and other works by Saul Steinberg and Alexander Calder.
Other works in Spain