Some modern giants revisited - and rediscovered

For a good third of my life I would have given almost anything to have been Joan Miro. Not only did I love his work - his color, drawing, and handling of space seemed totally magical to me - but he was obviously also one of those rare individuals who go through life managing to be a happy child and a wise adult at the same time.

Although I'm perfectly content to be myself now, I still look upon Miro as one of the great delights of my life and will go out of my way to look up any of his work I've heard about but have not seen.

I was particularly pleased, therefore, to read that Perls Galleries here was planning to exhibit Miro's 13 original gouaches for ''Ubu Roi,'' Alfred Jarry's political satire in the form of a play. Although this collaboration in the form of a book had been conceived in 1954 by the Paris publisher Teride, it didn't see the light of day until 1966, when the book, in a limited edition of 205 copies, each signed by Miro, was finally published.

The original gouaches, however, remained hidden away until very recently in a portfolio in Teride's home. The art world knew of them, but had no opportunity to see them - until now.

To some, these gouaches will not seem typically Miro. The forms are a bit more linearly entwined, the space is flatter, and the color is brassier than is the case in most of his work. In addition, the humor is broader than usual and closer to caricature and has a biting quality that puts these pieces very close in spirit to Picasso.

And yet, these exuberantly lively and frisky works could only have been painted by Miro. All his forms and calligraphic devices, his ''magical'' transformations and linear conventions are present - even though they are arranged a bit differently and given a slightly different emphasis. Who else, for instance, would have painted a bird quite like the one hovering in the upper-right corner of ''Le Tresor et Mere Ubu''? And who else would have dared use such combinations of hot pinks, acid greens, molten reds, and harsh yellows within inches of one another?

No, this is Miro, all right. And at pretty close to his very best.

At Perls Galleries through April 24. Willem de Kooning

Willem de Kooning is another painter for whom I've had great respect over the years. He was, during the early to mid-1950s, the one to whom we all turned to see where painting was going, and one of those, during the late 1950s, to whom we turned for guidance out of the dilemma into which post-World War II modernism had strayed.

That he was of little help was less his fault than it was an indication of abstract expressionism's inability to hold the art world's continuing attention, and of our intense eagerness to try something new - a desire that was more than met by pop art, and then by minimalism.

At any rate, in the course of five or six years, de Kooning vacated his position as the most advanced painter in the world to become a ''modern old master'' - a title he still holds, although his work doesn't show it.

I mean by that that he hasn't stopped growing and moving forward, that his recent works are as open, alive, and colorful as any he has painted, and that he gives no indication of settling back and acting like someone whose golden age took place over two decades ago.

All this is made abundantly clear in his current exhibition of large and dynamically colorful paintings of 1981-82 at Xavier Fourcade Inc. here. If anything, these canvases are more exuberant and youthful than those painted during the period of his greatest influence.

Much of this is due to his color, which is high keyed and intense while still retaining that quality of creaminess that distinguished his later paintings of women in the 1960s, and such powerful works as ''Door to the River'' and ''Easter Monday.'' As a matter of fact, one painting in this show, ''Untitled IV ,'' must rank among his very best - and one or two others come very close.

At Xavier Fourcade Inc. through May 1. Two other exhibitions

Two other exhibitions of note are the Serge Sabarsky Gallery's small but excellent showing of ''Portraits by Alexej Jawlensky,'' and the exhibition of ''French Painting - 1600-1900'' at Paul Rosenberg & Co.

The former is that gallery's 50th show since it opened in 1968 and follows in its tradition of displaying only the very best of German and Austrian expressionist works.

The French painting exhibition includes works drawn from four major French galleries - as well as from Paul Rosenberg & Co. itself. It is an excellent opportunity to see why French painting from 1600 to 1900 ranks as highly as it does and to see some excellent drawings and preliminary studies. I was particularly enchanted by Redon's pastel ''Geraniums and Field Flowers,'' and Degas's tiny oil, ''Portrait of Marguerite Degas.''

The exhibition at Sabarsky will run through May 29, and the one at Paul Rosenberg through May 1.

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