Joan Miró

The Tightrope Walker


Joan Miró 1893–1983
Original title
Bronze and steel
Object: 530 × 280 × 130 mm
Purchased 1982

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Miró often used discarded materials, some of them discovered in the foundry. His aim was to create what he called an ‘unlikely marriage of recognisable forms’. The body of the tightrope walker is made from a child's doll, cast into bronze. The base on which it rests is the cone through which the bronze was poured, while the nails originally held the mould together. The mottled and textured surface results from acid deposits left by the casting process. Each of these elements has an expressive role within the sculpture which, like much of Miró's work, combines humour with suggestions of violence.

Gallery label, July 2013

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Catalogue entry

Joan Miró 1893-1983

T03402 The Tightrope Walker 1970

Patinated bronze and steel 530 x 280 x 130 (20 7/8 x 11 x 5 1/8) on original wooden base 30 x 200 x 150 (1 1/8 x 7 7/8 x 5 7/8)
Incised inscription ‘Miró 2/2' and stamped foundry mark on back of figure
Purchased from Waddington Galleries (Grant-in-Aid) 1982
Prov: Acquired from the artist by Galerie Maeght, Zürich; sold to Waddington Galleries 1981
Exh: Joan Miró, Waddington Galleries, Dec. 1981 (16, repr., as ‘L'équilibriste'); The Touch of Dreams: Joan Miró, Ceramics and Bronzes 1949-80, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich, Oct.-Dec. 1985, (16, repr.)
Lit: Richard Calvocoressi, ‘Miró's Sculptures', in Joan Miró, exh. cat., Waddington Galleries, 1981, pp.3-5, repr. no. 16 as ‘L'équilibriste'; Dawn Ades, ‘Miró's Sculptures', in The Touch of Dreams: Joan Miró, Ceramics and Bronzes 1949-80, exh. cat. Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts, Norwich 1985, pp.21-33, repr. p.53 no.16. Also repr: Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1982-4, 1986, p.282; Miró Escultor, exh. cat., Centro Reina Sofia, Madrid, Oct.1986-Jan.1987, p.191, as ‘L'équilibriste'

In both literal and figurative senses, balance is the central theme of this sculpture. An upended torso of a doll, cast into bronze, supports a comic creature of Miró's invention, made in the shape of a witch's hat and topped by a crescent moon-form. This arrangement of ready-made and moulded elements reversed the order of components of a larger bronze made in the previous year. In the earlier work, also known in French as ‘L'équilibriste', a long-legged Miróesque creature balances on its head the same upended and splay-legged doll cast into bronze (repr. Miró Escultor, exh. cat., Centro Reina Sofia, Madrid 1987, no. 85). In both sculptures the idea of balance is represented by the subject matter of tightrope walkers and by the seemingly precarious arrangements of the elements of the works.

Miró had used found objects in his assemblages of the interwar years, but his use of them in his bronze works of the 1950s introduced new, and deliberately unresolved, tensions. In T03402 the transience of the doll-form, a cheap mass-produced item, is counterbalanced and, in a sense, contradicted by the permanence of its new bronze medium. In an interview given in 1970, the year in which he made this work, Miró said that, whilst his earlier assemblages had been dominated by pictorial interests, his recent sculptures were concerned with ‘the unlikely marriage of recognisable forms' (quoted in ‘The Artist's Comments', in Miró Sculptures, exh. cat., Walker Art Center, Minneapolis 1971, [p.14]). From fortuitous conjunctions of disparate elements Miró hoped to create in his sculptures a sense of vital energy.

Miró was an inveterate hoarder of small, seemingly insignificant objects such as pebbles, pieces of wood, and throwaway items of industrial production. Whereas most sculptors would come to a foundry with a model ready for casting, Miró arrived at the Parellada foundry, where this and most of his small assembled works were made, with only partly thought-out ideas and a box of objects he had collected. When working on a piece he would incorporate all sorts of discarded materials, such as old tools, nails and broken bottles, that he found lying in the foundry (Ades 1985, p.29). This lack of premeditation in his work led the way to surprising combinations of elements with potentially grotesque or poetic connotations. At the same time, however, a serious and controlled search for multivalent associations underlay this ‘playfulness'. As Jacques Dupin, art historian and long standing friend of Miró has written:

He collects what suits him, what attracts him, what resists him. Only as many elements as can play their role in his game or take their place in the composition are used; these become interchangeable, reversible and capable of fulfilling diverse or contrary functions ... From one work to the next, the same objects change meaning and purpose; their interrelationships and combinations are unpredictable (‘Miró as Sculptor', in Miró Sculptures, exh. cat., Walker Art Center, Minneapolis 1971, [p.71]).

Unlike Picasso, Miró did not seek to transform the identity of the found objects in his work. The body of the doll, for example remains recognisable as such and is plainly distinct from the moulded or invented elements in the work. The original identity of some elements, however, is not always immediately apparent. The nails, which introduce the suggestion of pain to what otherwise seems a humorous work and hint at reference to certain African fetish objects, had originally held together the mould in which the bronze was made. The base on which the figure stands is the positive shape of the cone through which the bronze was poured into the mould. The figure's belly, which echoes the shape of the sound box in a ‘talking' doll, is made from a steel sink filter or watering-can rose.

In becoming part of Miró's repertoire such ready-made elements acquire a symbolic significance. The perforations of the filter/belly, for example, suggest reference to the theme, ever present in Miró's portrayal of the human figure, of bodily orifices as pathways of contact between the self and the outer world. The fact that the figure is upended appears in the light of Miro's iconography to signify a vain and comic attempt by man to reduce his natural ‘rootedness' to earth and material things.

The strikingly rough textured surface and mottled colours of the sculpture are the products of the acid deposits left by the casting process. Miró generally chose to have works which incorporated found or ready-made elements, and whose original character he wished to retain, cast at the Paralleda foundry. The unpolished finish of bronzes produced here, he said, kept ‘all the strength and expressivity of the sculptures, and preserves it in all its pristine wildness and power' (quoted in Ades 1985, p.29).

Now in the collection of the Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona, are two drawings related to this sculpture (repr. Miró Escultor, exh. cat., Centro Reina Sofia, Madrid 1987, p.191, as ‘Dos bocetos para escultura').

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.532-3

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