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Miquel Barceló at the Irish Museum of Modern Art
An exhibition of the African works of the Spanish artist Miquel Barceló, widely regarded as one of the most important artists working today, opens to the public at the Irish Museum of Modern Art on Wednesday 25 June 2008. Miquel Barceló: The African Work focuses on works inspired by Barceló’s frequent stays in West Africa, where he has been a regular visitor since 1988 and where he has had a home, in the Dogon area of Mali, since the early 1990s. Comprising some 90 works, the exhibition ranges over the entire period of his association with West Africa, presenting works on paper – some being shown for the first time – large and small-scale paintings, sculptures, ceramics and sketchbooks. Also included is a large bronze sculpture of an elephant, Elefandret, 2007, situated in the Museum’s formal gardens.
Miquel Barceló is renowned for the extraordinary diversity and originality of his work, which has ranged from a series of spectacular terracotta murals for a chapel in the cathedral in Palma de Mallorca to a mesmerizing performance piece/living sculpture with the Hungarian/French choreographer Josef Nadj. He is currently creating a ceiling painting for the Human Rights Hall at the United Nations offices in Geneva, his most ambitious project to date. Barceló’s amazing creative output has been compared to such great Spanish masters as Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró and Antoni Tapies and to outstanding contemporaries European artists such as Francesco Clemente and Anselm Kiefer. Alongside these major projects, for the past 20 years West Africa has played – and continues to play – a particularly important part in Barceló’s practice. Unlike many artists who have been fascinated with the region, Barceló is drawn not to the exoticism of the area but rather to the daily life of its inhabitants, which he presents in a series of portraits, domestic scenes, landscapes and still lifes.
More than half of the exhibition is made up of works on paper, a medium which is central to this aspect of Barceló’s oeuvre. Using sketchbooks and diaries, he captures, visually and occasionally in words, the difficult human experience which is an essential reality of the region as well as its beauty and grace. The material poverty of the area is for him rich in impressions and spirituality. Barceló experiments with local pigments and clays producing an intense depth of colour, which gives his work a wonderful vibrancy. In 4 Seated Women and Young Girl with a Violet Skirt, both dating from 2005, we see women going about their daily tasks in vividly-coloured indigenous costumes. Executed in a seemingly simple, and almost hurried, manner, the works have a remarkable spontaneity and an essential and unforced feeling of Africa. The primordial beauty of the landscape also finds an echo in the irregular surfaces of his paintings. Some even include a covering of dust blown up by the regular dust storms, or holes made by termites, demonstrating his fascination with the transient nature of much that surrounds him.
The exhibition presents a number of large-scale works, which while not produced in Africa are linked to Barceló’s experience there. These include the desert landscape painting, Landscape for the Blind on Green Background II, 1989, one of what has become known as his “white paintings”; the Issa Beri, 1991, series of people in boats and Paradise Table, 1991, with its large tables of food reminiscent of African market stalls where totems are sold.
Barceló’s work in ceramics, which have since become such an important part of his practice, also had it beginnings in Africa. The exhibition includes some of these earlier pieces, all created with the artist’s customary sense of urgency. In Large Pot with Volcanic Rock, 1999, we see a small herd of goats disappearing through the walls of a ceramic pot, having left a trail of hoof marks on the outside, while Papaya, 1998, depicts two halves of a papaya served up on a plate. Bronzes include Gorilla’s Head, 2000, and a delightfully playful outdoor sculpture, Elefandret, 2007, of an elephant standing on its trunk.
IMMA Director, Enrique Juncosa, the curator of the exhibition and a long-time friend of the artist, describes Barceló as “one of the few contemporary artists who feels comfortable working in a rural idiom. In doing so, he confronts subjects of fundamental importance, subjects that have troubled and preoccupied us for an eternity.”
Born in Majorca in 1957, Miquel Barceló studied at the School of Arts and Crafts in Palma and the Fine Arts Academy in Barcelona. In 1974 he held his first solo exhibition at the Galería d'Art Picarol, Cala d'Or, Majorca. During the 1980s he traveled in Europe, the United States and West Africa and in 1982 he achieved international acclaim for his participation in Documenta 7 in Kassel. Barceló works with a wide-range of media and projects, from paintings and drawings, to backdrops for opera, murals and engravings, and terracotta and ceramic sculptures. From 2001 to 2006 Barceló worked on a project for the cathedral in Palma, covering an entire chapel in terracotta and then decorating it with images relating to the sixth chapter of the gospel of St John. Recent solo exhibitions include Pinacoteca do Estado, Săo Paulo, 2003; Musée du Louvre, Paris, 2004; Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Zürich, 2005, and Sala Kubo, San Sebastián, 2005. Barceló currently lives between Paris, Majorca and Mali.
Enrique Juncosa has previously curated retrospective exhibitions on Barceló in the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, 1994, and in the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (MNCARS), Madrid, 1998. This exhibition will travel to CAC Málaga, Centro de Arte Contemporáneo de Málaga in Spain from 11 November 2008 to 15 February 2009.
The exhibition continues until 28 September 2008.
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