Taller SertA Visit to Joan Miró’s Studio
The building is an icon of modern architecture. Terracotta tiles — many adorned with Miró’s paint spatters — ground it in the earth. The roof, white with winged curves, seems to reach for the heavens.
For close to three decades, Joan Miró worked in this studio, a space wreathed in the vast blue of sea and sky; and each morning at dawn, he followed the same ritual. He descended the internal stone staircase linking his home and workspace, and paused on the lower steps where he kept volumes of poetry. He chose a poem or two to savour, then sat in stillness, sometimes for hours.
In his lifetime, Miró produced some of the world’s most notable surrealist and abstract art, and was internationally renowned for his experimentation with different mediums, including ceramics, printmaking, book illustration, and sculpture. Though his output as an artist was extraordinary, he was notoriously unhurried. He often toiled at the same canvasses for years, and revered silence and solitude.
It seems apt then, that he didn’t establish his Mallorca studio — a space he’d longed for his entire artistic career — until he was 64 years old. Designed in partnership with his dear friend Josep Lluís Sert, a former student of Le Corbusier, the Taller Sert is a work of art in its own right. Following 10 months of major restoration works by Fundació Miró Mallorca, it reopened to the public in late 2018.
Miró and Sert became friends in Paris in the 1930s. When Sert was exiled to the United States in 1939, Miró considered joining him, but went instead to Mallorca with his wife, Pilar Juncosa. In 1953, Sert, by then settled in New York City, accepted the position of Dean of the Harvard School of Design. Meanwhile, in Mallorca, Miró and Juncosa had purchased a swathe of land in the suburbs of Palma with expansive views across the Mediterranean.
Designing the studio was a collaborative two-year process. Miró and Sert traded long letters, drawings, and eventually, a model, which is now in temperature-controlled storage. The box in which it arrived, addressed to the care of Miró’s son-in-law, is now on display in the studio.
“In the letters, you can see that Miró knows exactly what he wants,” says Fundació Miró Mallorca curator and head of collections, Patricia Juncosa Vecchierini, for whom the studio’s restoration has been a labour of love. “And you can see how Sert is able to translate those ideas into drawings, and make the dream a reality.”
Today, the building is an icon of modern architecture. Terracotta tiles — many adorned with Miró’s paint spatters — ground it in the earth. The roof, white with winged curves, seems to reach for the heavens. Skylights let in floods of Mediterranean light, which Juncosa Vecchierini explains was so essential to Miró’s work. Still, when Taller Sert was completed in 1957, Miró was overwhelmed by the space, and unable to paint. “Suddenly he had this perfect space, and didn’t know what to do with it,” says Juncosa Vecchierini. “He needed to slowly make it his own. At that point, it was the architect’s studio. It had to become the atelier of the painter.”
Miró began by covering the space with clippings, postcards and photographs, creating a patina that made it feel personal. He displayed objects he’d collected —bones, bottles, stones and shells — in custom-made display cabinets. Many were items he described as “motionless things,” but ones which, “set in motion great movements in my mind.”
By 1959, Miró was painting again. One of the first pieces to emerge from the studio was a large, whimsical mural for Sert, which hung in the architect’s home in Cambridge, Massachusetts for years before being donated to the Harvard Museum.
As well as repairing structural and water damage to the building, the 2018 restoration was an opportunity for Juncosa Vecchierini and her team to examine how the Taller Sert looked when Miró worked there. Very few outsiders had spent time in the studio, so the team operated like cold case detectives, trawling through documentary photographs and rare film footage of Miró working in the 1970s and 80s. Footprints immortalised in paint and splashes on the terracotta tiles helped them map the precise locations of studio furniture, and they painstakingly replaced every postcard, stone, pencil, ashtray and easel. They opted to display reproductions of the murals in their collection, to illustrate how the artist worked amongst his canvasses.
Until his death in 1983, Miró’s studio was his sacred space, one he viewed as ‘a laboratory for the cross-fertilisation of art,’ as author Robert Lubar Messeri wrote. He was adamant the Taller Sert be preserved for future generations and in 1981, Miró gifted the studio and its contents to the city of Palma de Mallorca. He always hoped his work would create fertile ground for new artists to experiment, to push new techniques to their limits.
“More than the picture itself, what counts is what it throws into the air, what it exhales,” Miró told painter and writer Yvon Taillandier in 1958. “It doesn’t matter if the image is destroyed. Art can die; what matters is that it scatters seeds on the ground.”
- words: Lucy Brook
- photos: Marina Denisova