Joan Miró's mural of colorful glass mosaic tiles and white marble has painted the front wall of Wichita State University's Ulrich Museum of Art since its installation in 1978. It will now take a five-year sojourn — and undergo a $3 million restoration — so that it can be restored to its full shimmering glory.
The iconic local landmark "Personnages Oiseaux" — colloquially known as "Bird People" — will be de-installed beginning Tuesday.
After years of re-adhering fallen and loose tiles, the discovery that the structure's backing was deteriorating led to a large-scale effort to restore the grand mural.
To mark the occasion, a send-off ceremony — See Miró Go! —will include refreshments, music and dances, followed by a kick-off with WSU President Donald Beggs at 12:15 p.m. De-installation of the mosaic will begin at 12:30 p.m. The conservation crew will remove one piece of the 80-panel mosaic.
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"It's a beloved icon. It puts Wichita on the map of the art world," Ulrich Museum Director Patricia McDonnell said. "It's an image that has come to represent our community."
McDonnell said the majesty of the colors and arrangements — as well as the work's historical significance — make it a standout.
"Miró is just as revered in the art world as Picasso," she said. "When Paris was the center of modern art, he was one of the most known and respected artists. He was internationally renowned and holds an important place in the history of the surrealist movement."
The work was created in France and assembled in Wichita. The individual mosaic tiles (called tesserae) are Venetian glass and white marble. They are meticulously arranged to create an iridescent effect. Taken as a whole, the piece resembles abstractions of multi-hued bird-like creatures. Visually dissected in parts, there's a distinct kaleidoscopic effect.
Wichita is one of the few places in the world with a Miró mural. He constructed 11 during his lifetime. Wichita's measures 28 feet high by 52 feet wide.
An extensive process started in 2007 to research exactly how to renovate the mural. A 100-page document emerged after three years that outlined all of the options and recommended a course for action.
"We vetted and critiqued the proposal and had two outside experts confirm our findings before we moved forward," McDonnell said.
Perforated stainless steel will be the new backing, allowing for a stable structure. More than 1 million glass pieces need to be cleaned or replaced. All replacement glass is being sourced from the original factory, and in some cases, leftover glass from when the work was constructed still exists.
"One of our main goals is not to change the mural from the front in any way. We don't want to change the positioning, color or anything," said Marianne Marti of Russell-Marti Conservation Services. "We are working from the back so that all of the structural work is taking place behind the glass. It will look exactly as it always did, down to the spacing of the tiles. This is a vibrant work of art, and we don't want to alter any of that."
A capital campaign to be publicly launched Tuesday has been established to secure private donations for the restoration.
"This is a community icon. We are really hopeful that people will want to chip in their nickels and dimes to see this through," McDonnell said.
If You Go
SEE Miró GO!
What: Public send-off ceremony for Joan Miró's "Personnages Oiseaux" mural
When: Noon Tuesday
Where: Ulrich Museum of Art entrance plaza (17th Street entrance at Fairmount Street), Wichita State University, 1845 Fairmount
For more information, visit www.beamirohero.com or call 316-978-3664.