Personnages Oiseaux (Bird People), 1977–78
Venetian glass and marble, 316 x 625 in.
Museum Commission with funds from
Dr. and Mrs. Clark D. Ahlberg, Mr. and Mrs.
Floyd T. Amsden, Mr. and Mrs. A. Dwight
Button, Mr. and Mrs. Robert E. Buck,
Dr. Martin H. Bush, Vincent D’Angelo,
Fourth National Bank and Trust Company,
Mr. and Mrs. Francis Jabara, William T. Kemper,
Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Kiskadden, Victor
Murdock Foundation, Price R. and Flora Reid
Foundation, Dr. and Mrs. James J. Rhatigan,
Mr. and Mrs. Earl O. Robinson, Edwin A.
Ulrich, Mrs. K. T. Wiedemann, and the WSU Student
Personnages Oiseaux, Joan Miró's mosaic mural on the southern-exterior wall of the McKnight Art Center’s
eastern section, is a vital symbol for the Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita State University
(WSU), and the city of Wichita. A native of Barcelona who was mainly based in Paris,
Miró was a key surrealist in the period between the world wars. His work enjoyed international
In 1923 Miró embraced the surrealist principle of automatism – that is, allowing the
unconscious, rather than logic and reason, to guide the creation of a work. As he
wrote a year later, "My latest canvases I conceived as if thunderstruck, totally disengaged
from the external world." (1) Like other surrealists, Miró frequently let dreams
suggest his subject and how to represent it.
Personnages Oiseaux contains core ingredients of Miró's art. Colorful elements float freely across an
expansive field. Perspective and modeling are absent, and the linear patterning suggests
a sprightly calligraphy. According to the title, the abstracted figures are fantastical
bird people. Miró regularly depicted birds, stars, and people to reflect his profound
humanity. The brilliant colors and fanciful creatures in the Ulrich mural embody
the joyous celebration of life that is typical of his mature work.
Although best known as a painter, Miró was also an
enthusiastic experimenter. "I have always been interested in media other than paint,"
he wrote in 1960. (2) The Ulrich commission gave him his first opportunity to design
a major work that would be executed chiefly in glass. Seventeen years before creating
Personnages Oiseaux, he painted a large-scale canvas for Harvard University's Harkness Commons that was
reproduced as a ceramic mural (1960–61). His other significant ceramic murals include
those at UNESCO headquarters in Paris (1956), the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in
New York (1963– 67), the
Barcelona airport (1970), and the world’s fair in Osaka,
Japan (1970). For the Wichita project, he asked that
Ateliers Loire in Chartres, France, a specialized decorative stained-glass manufacturer,
fabricate his design. An estimated one million pieces of glass and marble comprise
the twenty-eight-by-fifty-two-foot expanse. Personnages Oiseaux is the only mural
Miró made in this medium, although he later designed stained-glass windows for the
Maeght and Cziffra art foundations in France.
The museum’s founding director, Martin H. Bush, conceived and directed the commission.
Miró generously donated his design. WSU students and private donors funded production.
The mural is among the largest of numerous public-art commissions
Miró undertook late in his career. "Doing work for public places is one of my passions,"
he said in 1960. "The first mural I did was commissioned by an American university
[Harvard]. I was fascinated by the idea because it would put me in touch with those
students who would pass the mural every day." (3) Some 600,000 people annually traverse
the wsu campus, where, fulfilling the artist’s hope, they are able to encounter and
marvel at this masterpiece.
--Patricia McDonnell, director of the Ulrich Museum of Art
1. Miró to Michel Leiris, August 10, 1924, quoted in Agnes de la Beaumelle, ed., Joan Miró, 1917–1934 (Paris: Centre Pompidou, 2004), 148.
2. Margit Rowell, ed., Joan Miró: Selected Writings and Interviews (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1986), 294.