Joan Miró is one of the truly great artists of the 20th century.
A surrealist who never bothered with the movement's finer details of Freudian-Marxist dogma, a Catalan whose art conquered museums around the world without ever losing its local roots, a modern with the soul of a medieval peasant, Miró deserves the deepest attention, and Tate Modern's exhibition of his work is the art event I am most excited about in 2011.
Yet this exhibition will be something of a rediscovery, even a comeback, for an artist whose critical reputation slid at the end of the last century, even as his fame in the wider world remained huge. Why did he go out of fashion for a while in elite echelons of modern art? In the 1990s, a radical critique of traditional modern art criticism was launched by American intellectuals including Hal Foster and Rosalind Krauss. The legacy of surrealism was at the heart of the matter. Surrealism was reinvented by these very influential critics as the ancestor of today's art in a way that stresses its experiments with photography, collage and the object, thus shifting surrealist painting to the margin of the movement's legacy.
Lots of people can find this argument attractive because it is easy to see how the surrealist iconoclast Hans Bellmer resembles, say, the Chapman brothers: less easy to see how Miró, with his richly conceived, coloristic, abstract dream paintings, anticipates the art of today.
But there's one problem with marginalising Miró. He was a genius. To follow his paintings from his early hyper-intense Catalan landscapes in which the earth teems with manic life to his primordial abstractions that seem to reach to the very bottom of the ancestral seas where life evolved, as if all the universe and its history were buried in the cells of our brains, is to see an artist of fantastic power and raw vision penetrate the remotest corners of human knowing.
Any story of modern art that fails to give Miró a very high place is a history that represses truth. Miró was a totally singular soul, the outsider artist who found a home in the New, and his version of modern art is one of the 20th century's most worthwhile legacies. Hurrah for the curators who have decided to celebrate his magical world.
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