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Paintings that 'Give off Sparks': Joan Miró at Seattle Art Museum

Contemporary art exhibit for young kids? Absolutely.

Published on: February 19, 2014

Woman, Bird and Star (Homage to Picasso), Joan Miró

I didn’t expect to be absolutely swallowed up by the paintings of Joan Miró. While gazing dumbfounded at the massive painting Woman, Bird and Star (Homage to Picasso), a cosmos of bold black lines, whimsical shapes, and primary colors swirled before me. I felt as small as a child but a surprising surge of great joy accompanied a feeling of being swept away into the world of Miró’s art.

It was as if I were about to enter a grand doorway through which an entire family could walk. Which is exactly how Sarah Bloom, the manager of teen, family and community engagement programs at Seattle Art Museum (SAM), encourages families to enter the exhibit: together.

Drawing families in

Miró, The Experience of Seeing opened February 13 and runs through May 26 on its only stop on the West Coast. The exhibition showcases 50 paintings and sculptures from the last 20 years of the famed Spanish painter’s life, a body of work that testifies to his ingenuity and inventiveness to the end of his years.

Bloom emphasized that the SAM has “multiple entry points and levels of engagement” for families. For example, in the Chase Open Studio, an abundance of colorful supplies for mixed-media sculpture making surrounded us. A few images of Miró’s work were strategically placed for inspiration. A self-guided hands-on experience is always available for children to make art related to the main exhibit.

Bloom also described a series of events for kids that are planned over the next few months. That's when I realized I had made a mistake. I had been ignoring this museum, thinking it was off limits because I have young children.

When my daughter was a toddler, we sauntered in to experience the Alexander Calder exhibit and broke all the rules. She crawled under the tables with the sculptures resting atop. She crossed lines on the floors. We ate in the gallery. The security guards nicely asked us to leave. We never came back.

It was a loss. I didn’t grow up going to museums often. But when I was in a BFA program at an art school located in the basement of a major museum, I had the luxury of spending hours in front of pieces of art that captured my attention. I’d sit on the floor and stare at the details of my favorite pieces. I’d copy what I loved, making discoveries about myself.

Now, wandering through Miró’s dreamscapes and surreal images, I knew I had to bring my kids to see this show. I imagined answering their questions and trying to explain that many artists yearn to paint as free-spiritedly as a child.

We’ll pay special attention to the cast bronze found-object sculptures. Cardboard, sticks, and rope are easily discernible in those pieces.

 Young Woman, 1967, Joan Miró

I wonder if my 7-year-old daughter will think any of it is funny. Which will she choose as her favorites? I will mention that my favorite painting took the artist almost ten years to complete!

My daughter and I will attend the family-oriented mixed-media sculpture workshop that includes a kid-friendly tour of the Miró exhibit. I will be sure to bring my sketchbook and sit for a spell under my favorite piece.

Miró for toddlers

With my toddler, we’ll attend on a free first Thursday. We’ll visit the third floor “living room” (the Knudsen Room) with cushions, books, blocks, low chairs and toys. If it’s a tantrum type of morning, we’ll go around the corner and find another “living room” within the Miró gallery on the fourth floor. We can relax while checking out the stunning view from the wraparound windows.

And I’ll ponder this quote:

“In painting, you should be able to discover new things each time you look at it. For me, painting should give off sparks. It must dazzle like the beauty of a woman or a poem. It must radiate like the flints that shepherds in the Pyrenees use for lighting their pipes.” Joan Miró

Grateful to have been lured back to the museum and the experience of seeing with my children, we plan to keep coming back.

Family events

Family Fun Workshop 
Mixed Media Sculptures, March 15, 
10 a.m.–noon, 
Chase Open Studio
Explore colorful paintings and bold sculptures with a family-friendly tour of Miró: The Experience of Seeing and then create your own extraordinary mixed-media sculpture inspired by abstract shapes and vibrant colors.
Price: $15 (includes up to 2 children add more for $5 per child).

Community Night Out, March 6, 69 p.m., free
Live music, art making, tours, performances, and workshops inspired by the exhibitions. First 500 get in free to view the Miró exhibit. Tickets will be available at the Admissions desk in Brotman Forum on a first-come, first-served basis.

Photo credits, in order of appearance

Woman, Bird and Star (Homage to Picasso), February 15, 1966 / April 3-8, 1973, Joan Miró, Spanish, 1893-1983, oil on canvas, 96 7/16 x 66 15/16 in., Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. © Successió Miró / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris 2014.

Young Woman, 1967, Joan Miró, Spanish, 1893-1983, Lost-wax casting, patinated bronze, 13 x 14 3/16 x 2 3/4 in., Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. © Successió Miró / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris 2014.

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