In 1957, UNESCO's “Committee on Architecture and Works of Art” organized a competition for the decoration of the Organization's permanent headquarters in Paris, inaugurated in 1958. Only eleven artists were selected, among which the Spanish painter and sculptor Joan Miró for the execution of a ceramic mural, a project for which he received the Guggenheim Prize the same year. The work is composed of two murals, the “Wall of the Moon” and “Wall of the Sun” placed perpendicular to each other . Initially placed outdoors, the works were later covered for conservation purposes.
These works were conceived during a period when the artist was interested in ceramics and abstract painting. Miró had made his first ceramics in 1944, in collaboration with the ceramist Josep Llorens Artigas. Their research mostly concerned the contrast between the rigidity of the material used and the naïve drawing made with sinuous lines. For his works at UNESCO, Miró primary concern was to integrate them into the architectural context of the buildings. His polychrome murals were meant to answer the coldness and rigidity of the buildings.
Before being made, a full scale model of the project was executed in charcoal and gouache in Gallifa (Spain). The completed tiles were put together in Paris, where Miró practically lived on the construction site during the installation of the murals. In order to maintain a dynamic and lively composition, drawings were carried out in one continuous stroke, spontaneity being the most important component for the shapes and colors. The expressive black lines contrast with the flat surfaces of color. Furthermore the walls seem to answer each other, one representing the sun and symbolizing the day or life, the other representing the moon as a symbol of night, or death.
Complementing the “Wall of the Moon”, the « Wall of Sun » however presents several differences, first of which its commanding size, twice as long as the former wall. Perhaps this is meant to show that the sun is more powerful than the moon and hence that life triumphs over death? This impression is also due to the imposing drawing of the sun itself. The “red sun” is moreover frequent in Miró’s work, especially in his painted series “Constellations”, carried out between 1940 and 1941, following Spanish civil war. The main themes in this series were stars, the moon and sun; these polychrome symbols and signs were for him an escape.
This mural is globally lighter in color than the “Wall of the Moon”. The three main shapes are spaced out regularly along the surface and linked to each other with two stars, ellipses and lines. This underlines Miró’s wish to play on contrast in his works, which here comes out thanks to the distinction between the flat surfaces of color and the expressive black lines.
Joan Miró Ferra was born in 1893 in Barcelona (Spain). He initially participated in the Fauvist and Cubist movements, before turning towards the Detail movement in 1918, year of his first personal exhibition in Barcelona. In 1925 he integrated the Surrealist Movement and participated in the exhibition “Surrealist Painting” at the Pierre gallery in Paris. Miró began using unusual materials and creating collages and sculptures-objects. Following the outbreak of the war in Spain and the German invasion, Miró began his Constellation series in 1940, which became for him a method of escape when faced with the horrors of the Second World War. He thus created a colorful, naïve world of which the main elements were stars, the moon and the sun.
After the war he used humor in his ceramics, made in collaboration with Artigas, as well as in his sculptures, which were often monumental. He was commissioned for several murals, such as those at Harvard University (1958, United-States), UNESCO headquarters and at Juan-les-Pins (underwater sculpture, 1966, France).
The Miró foundation was officially created in 1976 in Barcelona, seven years before Miró passed away in Barcelona. A museum was dedicated to him ten years later.