Working Title/Artist: The Potato Department: Modern Art Culture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: 11 Working Date: 1928 photography by Malcolm Varon 1988, transparency #2 scanned and retouched by film and media (jn) 7_20_04
Joan Miró, Potato, 1928, Oil on Canvas, 39 3/4 x 32 1/8 inches, The Met

With the potency of red bordering blue, Potato, recently re-installed at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, is an invigorating walk through Miro’s fantastical world of invented pictorial language and whimsical figuration. I made a jaunt uptown to see it when I found out the painting was back in action but, after a subway ride full of anticipation, I arrived at Gallery 908, on the first floor, to find it blocked off to visitors. To the chagrin of the guards, I stretched my head over the barrier as far as I could, but still couldn’t catch it in my sight. I left with the disappointment of a child.

Miró is one of my greatest loves and Potato was a painting of his that I hadn’t seen before in person. I immediately called a friend who works at the Met to let me behind the ropes a week later. It was one of the most natural and memorable viewing experiences of my life. There I was in the large gallery, on a heavily trafficked day, with only my museum buddy Ryan and my friend Rachel, who I brought along because of her parallel infatuation with Miró. I saw this painting up close and more intimately than I have ever seen a Miró before. It spoke to me directly, which is uncommon for a painting in a museum setting. It was one of us. There were no tourists to get between me and its blinding spectrum of colors and the realness of its textures. With the quietness of the nearly empty space, the painting and I conversed through vibrations of color, form and line. The main figure whispered surreal quotations out of her pursed lips like free verse poetry. I was able to view Potato at its full capacity, and it was pure magic.

Gallery908 (1)Gallery 908 at the Met

There is no boundary placed on the imagination when it comes to experiencing a Miró. Things are seen and unseen, and ideas take flight only to disappear into the dizzying motion of imagery. Primary colors abound in their brightest and most glorious states, enhancing the trip. A discerning eye can conjure recognizable forms if it understands Miró’s use of symbolism, but this often takes more than a second pass at the canvas. It is your own story to write and rewrite.

As I put down my thoughts on Potato, I am sitting on a porch in the Sierra Foothills. I am convinced that the hummingbirds flying around me are the same ones I saw whispering to the figure at the top right of the canvas. She belts back to them in squiggly red melodies, maybe proclaiming her love for the land. The light brown section of the composition on the bottom right is like a field for the potatoes themselves. Harvesting potatoes takes place in the summer, and it seems that the woman, with her one larger hand, is ready to do the uprooting with the help of her dancing sprites. The pole that sticks up from the field holds a flame to light the way into dusk. Thin black lines, one of my favorite Miró signature elements, connect mobiles of shape that set the scene in motion. And the cerulean sky, with its subtle hints of green, grabs onto the burley texture of the canvas to make the most of its outstanding saturation. The “M” is not hiding in this painting. Miró makes his autograph clear in the palm of the woman’s hand, thrusting it out towards the viewer.

Calandra-Miro-Venice (1)
Maria Calandra, Miro (Peggy Guggenheim Collection Venice), 2016, Pencil on Claybord, 11 x 14 inches

Maria Calandra  lives and works in Brooklyn and is the artist and writer behind the blog Pencil in the Studio which she started in 2011. In this project she spends the day with artists in their studios while drawing their space and talking to them about their life and work. She received an MFA from Cornell University in 2006 and has shown in New York City and across the United States.