By Verónica Castro Salamanca
Rosa Maria Malet has been the head* of the Miró Foundation, host of the world’s largest collection of works by the Catalan artist, for an impressive 34 years and has been part of the organisation since it was created in 1975.
It would be difficult to find somebody better for the role: Having started out with a diploma in Art History, today she is a leading authority on Miró and his work. She has written a number of monographic books on the artist, notably Joan Miró. A Biography (1992) and Joan Miró. Notes on a Collection (2003). And last but not least she spent a considerable amount of time with the Miró family while she was studying.
Malet’s trajectory is the dream of anyone who aspires to a career in the management of an artist’s work: having graduated in Art History, she began working as an assistant in the Foundation’s Conservation Department and later became Chief Conservation Officer until, in 1980, she was appointed director. She confesses that despite having lived with the Miró family, she became interested in the artist’s work after visiting his anthological exhibition in 1968, the first to be held in Barcelona, which Malet describes as “a revelation, especially because contemporary art was rarely seen in Barcelona”. The Foundation, devised by Miró himself, has become a beacon not only for Miró’s work, but for contemporary art in general, since Miró “didn’t create it thinking solely of his work”.
“Joan Miró donated a collection of immense value with some particular aspects. I would highlight the collection of preparatory drawings that Miró developed throughout his life, some of which date back to the time he was eight”. She speaks fondly of the drawing of a turtle with the shell painted in a varied palette, which already hinted at the artist’s love for colour. Such drawings survived thanks to his mother -from whom Miró probably inherited his orderly and methodic personality- and have later proved to be “a key element to study his working method and follow the evolution of his work”, adds Malet. In fact, the 13,000 drawing collection was the point of departure for Miró’s centennial exhibition in 1993, the greatest challenge Malet has had to face in her almost 40 years at the Foundation.
Malet picks The Morning Star, part of the Constellations series, as the Foundation’s indispensable piece. “Miró painted the 23 Constellations between 1940 and 1941, in the midst of the Second World War. He was living in France and, when the conflict worsened, he returned to Spain with his wife, his daughter and the folder containing the Constellations he had painted so far. The war horrors had led him to seek inspiration in the starry skies, but without forgetting terrestrial elements, in particular the female figure. The Constellations marked the beginning of a new period that defined the iconography he would continue to reproduce for the rest of his life”.
Miró kept The Morning Star as a present for his wife, Pilar Juncosa, which “grants it a very special emotional value”, says Malet. Juncosa later donated it to the Foundation.
Miró’s art is so much associated with Barcelona that it is a hot favourite with tourists. The mosaic on the famous Ramblas and the sculpture Mujer y pájaro (Woman and Bird), which have been endlessly reproduced, have become iconic images of the city. As for the Foundation, Malet says they come both for the collection and the building, which was designed by Josep Lluís Sert. It is the perfect stage for Miró’s work, due to the “natural symbiosis” between the artists: “Sert and Miró worked side by side on the project; they had similar tastes and interests, and a commitment to use local resources, which you often find in Mediterranean cultures”, Malet adds.
The artist’s legacy to the city is further explored in From Miró to Barcelona, one of the Foundation’s exhibitions of the 2014-2015 season, which focused on the works that Miró designed for his hometown, a priceless gift to Barcelona and its dwellers. “We experience public art as part of our surroundings. It’s not just a matter of livening up urban landscapes, but of creating unique moments, of differentiating one space from another”, states Malet, convinced of the importance of art in the public space. “Artists can create a fun element, an oddity, something that will inspire thought and reflection; it can also be a historical reference, or simply an appeal to aesthetic pleasure”.
The 2014-2015 programme also included the exhibitions The Wilson Exercises, With Your Own Hands and The Birth of the Object, excellent examples of the Foundation's promotion of contemporary art. However, it was Barcelona, Neutral Zone the one that caught our eye and, once again, Malet’s description turned out to be a fascinating lesson in art and history, or rather how history conditions artistic creation. “The exhibition refers to a period when the First World War was ravaging most of Europe, while Spain had been left out of the military conflict. Barcelona, close to the frontier of the war, was already a magnet for the arts, having encouraged artists such as Picabia, Gleizes and Picasso to take up residence in the city, creating a breeding ground for new trends and forms of expression with an enormous impact on those artist who were in full bloom, including Miró”.
By way of farewell, Malet gives us her tips for those lucky ones who happen to be in the Barcelona.
Where to have an authentic Catalan meal
The Restaurant 7 Portes, at the foot of the Montjuic mountain. I would also suggest the Foundation’s restaurant for its atmosphere and varied cuisine. If you’re looking for a quiet place to chat while enjoying a good meal, I recommend the restaurant at the Hotel Alma in the city centre.
A cultural festival that takes place in Barcelona
The Grec festival. It offers an exceptional theatrical programme in a fantastic location.
A souvenir to take back home
Since I have a soft spot for traditional handcrafts, I would suggest a good pair of espardilles from La Manual Alpargatera in Avinyó Street.
Your top 3 suggested visits