FROM PRIVATE NOTES
TO ARTE PUBLICO
Inventing projects to be carried out in public spaces, Antoni Miralda was a public artist before the practice became fashionable among artists in the late 1970s. He learned to think and plan his projects through his private notes and drawings. As author, choreographer and master of ceremonies, Miralda had to convince himself of the tone and rhythm of each event and project. The components and directions of his site-works had to be developed, recorded and explained through drawings and verbal directions to the numerous players in his orchestrated artworks. At times, the projects had to be presented to sponsors and public officials. In all cases, the drawings served multiple purposes. For the audiences who did not see them, the resulting artistic actions were linked to remote places and times, to fleeting episodes and occurrences as in music and dance performances.
Our connection now to the thinking behind those public ceremonies, performances and installations are the drawings in this book. Taking great risks as an artist by producing ephemeral site related work, Miralda developed his ideas and images on paper, but he never really intended many of these images and notes as more than personal working documents. In addition to some formal presentation drawings, many private drawings were “rescued” for their first public presentation here. Although some of the drawings embody private thoughts, most of them relate to works of public art.
While much of the reality of public events is evanescent, some of their flavor, genesis and sources are still preserved in the drawings, in surviving monuments and in the images and case histories in this book. Thus, in a historical sense, these drawings reveal the workings of the artist's mind, the emergence and evolution of ideas and forms, and especially for the unrealized projects, their sole existence.
Working in the public realm in our times requires that artists be explicit about the components and timing of their projects. Workers have to be cued and trained, fabricators have to be directed, sponsors have to be convinced and motivated. Beyond the emergence and evolution of the artist's ideas we also see here the rhetoric of the artist's intentions and his use of drawings to present, explain and convince. We also view the magic of visual and verbal representation, the interplay of squiggle, ideogram, pictograph, letter and word. We witness the near-chemical emergence of a position, a gesture, a movement and their evolution into images and language.
The public art terrain in which Miralda operates remains an exposed frontier of culture clearly functioning in other terms than the conquered cultured parcels of art museums and the uncharted but protected corners of the art world. In many ways, in these drawings we also witness the artist's definition of his territory, the carving of the social space for artistic intervention, the stretching of the conception and boundaries of the work of art. Each site-specific event was sculpted by Miralda in collaboration with a group of performers/participants, every time in a different circumstance, always charged with the passion and thoughts of the presenters and the audiences, saturated with the emotions and momentum of each environment. This book places Miralda's work on the border of ancient traditions of public ritual and at the forefront of the evolving movement of public art in the last half of the twentieth century.
The approach to inventing, selecting and siting public art in Europe and in the United States has evolved significantly in the last four decades. From the earliest attempts in the 1960s at placing large studio works outdoors, through the collaborations between artists, architects, engineers and other professionals of the 1980s, to the more recent political engagement and action of artists, the notion of public art has been radically challenged and re-examined. As the drawings and case histories show, Miralda was pushing the boundaries of this unexplored territory, risking at times the perception that his work was some kind of glorified ritual, facing the sceptical questioning of his work as legitimate and relevant art.
In all of his projects Miralda was firm and clear about his esthetic intent, at times relying on his historical awareness, intuition and informed imagination, whether he was functioning alone or with a group of bakers or cheerleaders, always recognizing the practical and philosophic differences between working in a public environment versus the private realm of the artist's studio. Even when laboring with other artists or with craftsmen, Miralda acknowledged and respected his co-workers' esthetic potentiality, joining them in their own forms of self-expression. This serious attitude and approach as a public artist led him to value an adaptive method of artmaking that is formally and imaginatively responsive to an audience, a place, its history, context and use. Unlike the isolated practice of traditional studio-artists, today many artists are embracing and welcoming a broad public into all aspects of their art. With Miralda the audience and the co-workers in any project were an integral component of the artwork since his first Fête en Blanc.
Many of the scenarios exposed in presentations and publications about public art do not sufficiently emphasize the fact that the artist is the central focus of any art production, that the artist is the one taking risks and assuming responsibility for the total work of creation. In addition to his/her vision and concepts, an artist producing a work of public art must consider what is realizable with limited resources, what is allowed by commissioning entities and public agencies, what is possible to construct in compliance with building codes and standards of public safety, what is accepted by increasingly vocal public audiences, what is vulnerable to political interference, what is realizable under the overused covers of artistic freedom.
Beyond these factors, more elusive conditions play important roles in public art: the willingness of patrons to provide support and funding to complete artworks without compromise, the cooperation of sponsors and bureaucrats in re-interpreting guidelines to accommodate flexibility and possibility, the complicity of art writers and critics in supporting public art and in presenting this type of expression in its own terms. Even when the artwork was itself the subject of the interests of sponsors, whether as an image for public relations or marketing, Miralda acknowledged the changing interpretations and transformation of the meaning of his works as their images transcended the boundaries of his own intentions. Permeable to the porous contours of culture, Miralda has been an astute player in all of his works that have actually materialized, especially those staged in the United States. In the few instances where sponsors attached too many strings and conditions to their support, Miralda firmly stated his convictions, opting to decline producing a project compromised and changed beyond his purposes.
And yet, having crisscrossed and charted the public territory in Europe and in the United States, Miralda can also be an intensely private artist. The earliest drawings done in a modest sketch book in military camp explore the actual profiles of figures and uniforms. His studies for the Projet pour un banc de square, the re-alignments of images from military manuals, the permutations of soldier images, all become obsessive personal commentaries on social structuring and strong statements against war and aggression.
In his early work, Miralda was also an avid appropriator of images, especially in the many works which include toile de jouy, and the Essaie d'Amelioration executed on historical posters. He was also a willing collaborator with other artists, becoming involved in all aspects of a project or exhibition, including the design of many of his exhibition announcements. His posters and unlimited edition postcards extended his images and ideas into the public realm of the mails. In contrast, the Suicide Cake provides a recipe an individual or a group's fatal ritual.
Other drawings include choreography annotation, descriptions of unusual materials, recipes of all kinds, menus, alignment of marchers in a street parade, elaborations on techniques of coloring bread or rice. Some drawings reflect upon the history of art (Venus Bolero) while others celebrate popular culture, imploding political and gustatory territories (Coca-Cola Polenta). Themes like the Last Supper appear as a set of postcards in the Mercedes Benz Last Supper, eventually becoming encoded in other projects. Drawings for numerous tables show the artist's ever expanding conception of one of mankind's most universal pieces of furniture: appearing in multiple geometric guises and also broken, exploded, forming a labyrinth, jutting into the Mediterranean Sea, elongated like a serpent, shaped like an airplane, becoming a double-tailed mermaid.
As Miralda explored food for humans and deities through the years, he also developed events of all types, served famous food to animals, worked with Montse Guillen on a showcase restaurant, El lnternacional, engaged and married statues, concieved monument-gifts from various cities to his famous couple. All of this is included here, at times embryonically, at times in full illusionistic splendor.
Drawing as a way of recording persons and objects, drawing to actualize reality, drawing to probe his mind for images, drawing to capture the fleeting inner commentary, drawing to resolve technical and logistical details of a project, drawing as a means of documenting other versions of an artwork, drawing to seduce a potential sponsor, drawing to comply with bureaucratic requirements: all these have been employed by Miralda in the three decades of work shown in this catalogue of the artist's instruments.
Drawings in military camp, in trains and planes, in New York, Miami and Barcelona, drawing in Paris and Berlin, Miralda has faced the empty page with simple pens, pencils, markers, sometimes a little watercolor or the occasional shadowy smear of his own saliva. This book contains a major selection of the artist's life work, revealing a range of expression and invention, exposing the nervous garabato which becomes a black swan or a marching figure in a parade, embodying a dizzying imagination which conceives, rethinks, enlarges, revises and executes. Flipping through these pates viewers see the artist testing his ideas, adjusting initial modes, shifting directions and refining the ever-evolving structures and forms.
These extended uses of the language of drawing, beyond the prevalent perception of a drawing as the means of recording of visual reality, of the drawing as “finished artwork” for the art market, of a drawing as the history of a moment of inspiration, are manifest here. The artist focuses his draughtsman's tools on a locus of potentiality and invention; his drawings become the record, the evolving imaging of directed aesthetic formalization, its history and his probing.
Miralda's arsenal of drawings expose a linguistic and semiotic exploration, revealing to a broad public a form of private communication and the substance of his search for a public esthetic. Beyond their relation to the many projects and monuments, the images speak volumes for themselves, awakening and strengthening in all viewers a belief in the power of drawing as a universal, timeless language. As a fundamental means for the artist to deal with his artistic vision and his inner and outer reality, the drawings in this book embody the struggle and the record of Miralda's universal public art and fascinating private quest.
Miami, September 1994
Cesar Trasobares, an independent artist and art activist based in Miami was Executive Director of the Art in Public Places program in Dade County, Florida (1985-1990), one of the pioneer programs of public art in the United States. Trasobares worked with Miralda in his projects for the New World Festival of the Arts in Miami in 1982.
Menus: Miralda, Sa Nostra-Caixa de Balears, Palma, Mallorca, 1995 (concept for book by Miralda in collaboration with Trasobares)
Essay appears on pages 16, 17; also in original Spanish version (pp. 18-19) and in Catalan (pp. 13-15)