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Joan Miró, with Josep Lloréns Artigas, Alicia, 1965-67

Joan Miró met ceramicist Josep Lloréns Artigas in 1912, while Miró was an art student in Barcelona. These longtime friends began to work together in 1944. Miró’s initial experiments in the medium of ceramics were collaborative pieces in which he painted on the surfaces of Artigas’s vase and plaque forms. Eventually Miró began to produce sculpture in the medium, making models out of found objects and natural materials that would then be translated into clay by Artigas or beginning in 1953, by his son Joan.

Alicia is Miró’s second ceramic mural in the U.S. (the first was commissioned in 1950 for the Graduate Center at Harvard University and before its final installation, was exhibited at the Guggenheim in 1961). Executed at Artigas’s atelier near Barcelona, Alicia is comprised of 190 separate ceramic tiles and is permanently installed in the rotunda of the Guggenheim’s Frank Lloyd Wright building, occupying the first wall encountered as one ascends the museum’s spiral ramp. Thomas M. Messer, the Guggenheim’s Director from 1961 to 1988, contacted Miró in 1963 following the proposal of Harry F. Guggenheim, then President of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, to commission an appropriate memorial to his wife, Alicia Patterson Guggenheim, who died that year at the age of 56.

The abstract composition, typical of Miró’s characteristic style, palette, and vocabulary of motifs, includes the name “Alice” in reference to the commemorated Alicia Guggenheim. Although Messer valiantly and tactfully attempted to correct the misspelling Miró had included in his numerous letters, the artist mysteriously resisted. Amid his signature celestial forms, Miró perhaps playfully settled on a composition of letters that, as was suggested in a 1967 letter from his dealer Pierre Matisse, could be read either as “Alice” or “Alicia.”

Miró undertook the project with enthusiasm, writing to Messer in August of 1966 and noting the significance he ascribes to the firing process in the completion of his ceramic works: “I am delighted to tell you that the great mural has already been started. I am very hopeful about the results of this first stage. Let’s hope that our great friend Fire will also bring us his richness and his beauty for the next steps.” Possibly it was the element of chance interaction, producing uncontrolled and unexpected results that drew the Surrealist Miró to the techniques for creating works in ceramics, a medium that remained significant in his oeuvre for over four decades.

Alicia, 1965-67. Ceramic tile, 97 7/8 X 228 1/2 inches. Gift, Harry F. Guggenheim in memory of his wife Alicia Patterson Guggenheim 67.1844.