Now that Joan Miró: The Ladder of Escape is open, we have the opportunity to think back to other exhibitions. The last show in Britain to look across his whole career (rather than at focussed moments) was the one on which Miró himself helped his friend Roland Penrose to make in 1964 for the Arts Council at the Tate Gallery. This has been a marker for us in making our exhibition, but today I am also thinking about the strange circumstances of Miró’s first museum retrospective. This was seventy years ago in 1941 and held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Among the most recent works that were shown there was ‘A Star Caresses the Breast of a Negress’ (above) that Miró had completed in April 1938.
James Johnson Sweeney, a curator at the Museum and a friend of the artist, was the curator. Miró himself never had the opportunity to see it. He could not even make a sensible contribution, as he was in Franco’s Spain and wartime conditions in Europe prevented him from communicating regularly with New York. As Sweeney noted in the catalogue: ‘only fragmentary news of his work has crossed the Atlantic’. How extraordinarily frustrating this must have been.
Matthew Gale is head of displays at Tate Modern and co-curator of Joan Miró: The Ladder of Escape, at Tate Modern until 11 September.