Boijmans ‘finally’ has his Miró

It is the largest acquisition of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in decades, and it is ‘a key piece’ in the museum’s extensive and qualitatively solid collection of Surrealists: the painting Peinture-poème (Musique, Seine, Michel, Bataille et moi) (1927) by the Spanish painter Joan Miró from Thursday officially belongs to the collection at the Rotterdam Museum, which has been closed for renovation and expansion for a few years.

Earlier this month, Culture Minister Gunay Uslu himself signed off on the financial contribution from the state that ultimately made the purchase possible from the Museale Aankopen Foundation – the maximum state contribution from the Mondriaan Foundation was not sufficient. However, a significant part of the purchase price of 8.1 million euros (8 million Swiss francs) was not raised with public funds, but from private funds. The Rembrandt Society in particular has supported the acquisition of this work from the start with an initial pledge of 3 million euros and a later addition.

Also read this report: Joan Miró’s universe

The museum has a collection of surrealist visual art, books and magazines that has been among the best in Europe since the then Chief Curator of Modern Art, Renilde Hammacher, began collecting in the late 1970s. The museum had been looking for a so-called dream painting by Miró for a long time, because it steered surrealism in the direction of more abstract work, says collection and research manager Sandra Kisters. “People often think of the figurative surrealism of dream symbolism, such as the works of Dalí and Magritte, which evoke an alienating world. Miró represents the other branch, an abstract tendency.” This makes his work a bridge to painters like Picabia who went much further in abstract surrealism. “So it is not alone; why a Miró, but why such a Miró. We would find his later work much less interesting.”

Circles in the water

The Surrealists, originally mainly a literary movement of ‘automatic writing’, wanted to bypass rationality and thus let the subconscious speak directly. Which didn’t come naturally. Miró, for example, starved himself to temper his conscious mind. This work, peinture-poème, he made after a walk along the Seine with, among others, the philosopher Bataille, where they looked at the circles in the river’s water. Miró later wrote about it in his diary. It gives a dark work, brown with red. “You can see that in the surrealist movement there is still discussion about what you see in the subconscious,” says outgoing museum director Sjarel Ex. “If you close your eyes, dream, do you see images, or do you deal with spheres or thought streams, or do you see something atmospheric? This painting provides the opening to see everything. You end up in a not very attractive muddy state at first, which is great of course. It is a painting that challenges you and does not immediately lie at your feet like a purring cat. That’s often how it is with Dalí, you think it’s beautiful and then it starts to wear out. Dalí is a bit of an early artist for whom taste develops, but Miró is someone you think of when you meet him: Ho. This also exists.”

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For a long time there was little hope that they would be able to acquire such a work, says Ex, who will step down as director on Friday. “They are rare, and many of the dream paintings have already found their final destination in collections or museums. After his retirement in 1978, former director Coert Ebbinge Wubben said that the museum should have had a Miró, but that it was too late, that it would never come again.” So, says Ex, “We were hereditary like a museum.” According to him, the surrealist collection is of great importance to the museum’s entire collection. “We are also always looking for the surrealist tendencies in art. We often end up with choices dictated by this squadron – surrealism is a concertmaster for us.”

Extremely transparent

A few years ago, the museum already tried to buy a painting from Miró’s dream period, one of his blue works. But the museum eventually abandoned it, even though it was almost financially closed. “He had later painted a layer over it, which made it of inferior quality to this work. This one is painted extremely clear, it was put up in one go. This makes it his direct translation of the subconscious period.”

The work was not sold at an auction late last year, says Ex. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen then contacted the owner through Christie’s auction house. The painting was now on loan from the Swiss Art Museum Winterthur, and then came to Rotterdam to see its condition and see how it fit into the collection.

A large part of the Surrealists’ visual works from Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen’s important European collection is part of a traveling exhibition that was previously shown in New Zealand and now hangs in Mexico City. The exhibition will return home in mid-October, says Kister, and will be on display in one of the Depot’s rooms for a few months before it leaves again, this time to Denmark. Is the collection at home in honor of Miró’s purchase? “No, it’s a coincidence.”

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