The Museo Reina Sofia presents a retrospective of Cuban artist Wifredo Lam, other stations of the show are besides the Centre Pompidou in Paris and Madrid the Tate Modern in London, where the work by Lam can be seen in autumn.
The goal of the tour through the art capitals of Europe is to help to secure the so far underestimated work by Wifredo Lam its deserved rank in the art history of the 20th century and to enable its stilistic categorization. The retrospective comprises 200 works of all periods, as well as documents and photographs. In five sections of his oeuvre the development of Lam’s multicultural imagery and the cooperation with many artists and writers of his time he was best friends with are illustrated.
Wifredo Lam, Reclining Nude, 1939
Wifredo Lam always gave art historians and curators a hard time to locate his work within the art schools of the 20th century. His pictures that are oscillating between Cubism and Surrealism are formed by the ethnic influences of his Carribean roots. Also the artist Wifredo Lam defies a clear national and cultural classification.
Wifredo Lam was the cosmopolitan forerunner of today’s globalized world.
Being the son of a Chinese father and a mother of African and Spanish ancestry, he was the prototype of a multiethnic nomad who emigrated from his Cuban home country to Spain, returned to the Carribean via France, spent the post war years in New York, and finally chose Europe to become the center of his life again, however, never really to settle down. In the 1920s Wifredo Lam starts to free himself from the academicism of the years of his studies in Havana and Madrid, where he studies the old masters in the Prado. Inspired by the avant-gardists in Paris, especially Gris, Miró and Picasso, he is looking for new impulses for his painting. Under their influence he reduces the forms and abandons the perspective depiction, recollecting the cultural heritage of his Cuban home country at the same time. The colors yield to a monochrome coloring and a gloomy prevailing mood, which may be due to the tragic loss of his wife and his son who died of tuberculosis one after another. As a consequence he joins the troops of the Spanish republic to fight against Franco, but the victory of the fascistic forces send him fleeing to Paris in 1938.
Wifredo Lam, The Sombre Malembo, God of the Crossroads, 1943
There he is confronted with the influence of African sculpture on the art of the European avant-garde again, under the spell of primitive art he continues to reduce his faces to become mask-like, with sharp-edged expressive forms penetrating the pictorial space, thus reflecting his inner disruption caused by the loss of his family and his home country.
Wifredo Lam, Bélial, Emperor of the Flies, 1948
Totem for the Moon, 1955/1957
In 1938 he travels to Mexico, where he meets Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Both the influence of the early Romanesque and also the Cyclades encounter a late Cubism inspired by primitive African sculpture which Wifredo Lam had discovered at the Musée de l’Homme and the studio of Picasso. Picasso soon becomes a friend and mentor of Lam’s.
Wifredo Lam, The Wedding, 1947
When the German troops are approaching Paris in 1940, he escapes to Marseille as many other intellectuals, where he meets André Breton and other Surrealists. Wifredo Lam takes part in surrealistic joint projects, amongst others in the production of ”Exquisite Corpses” popular in Surrealist circles. Together with Breton he succeeds in escaping to Martinique, where he meets Aimé Césaire, the poet of ”Négritude”, who rejected any correlation of a racist and cultural dominance just like Wifredo Lam whose conviction was reinforced by reading the writings by Karl Marx.
Wifredo Lam, Untitled, 1957
His home country Cuba became a forced exile for Wifredo Lam which inspired him to his most important works.
The return to Cuba is painful for him, in view of the rampant corruption, the racism and the poverty on the island the cultural identity of which had seemingly survived only as folklore which Wifredo Lam despised. He feels his stay in Cuba as a forced exile, the feeling of isolation makes him create his most famous work The Jungle in 1943, with deformed figures, masks and plants merging into an inseparable symbiosis. Lam now dedicates himself to the production of works which melt human, animal and vegetal attributes into monstrous creatures that evoke the spirit of Caribbean afro-cuban culture and the slavery of colonialism.
Wifredo Lam, Clairvoyance, 1950
In 1952 Wifredo Lam leaves his Cuban home country again to resettle in Paris, but restlessly he continues to go on long journeys. Through his friend Asger Jorn he is in close contact with the CoBrA group whose spontaneous collective working comes close to his artistic approach. He experiments with new forms and materials such as terra-cotta, and simplifies his vegetal figures of the 1940s under the influence of the American abstract expressionism to compositions charged with energy. Lam illustrates numerous works of his poet and writer friends such as René Char with dreamlike figures in his sharply contoured drawing technique.
Wifredo Lam, Prehistory II, 1975
Vase II, 1975
By invitation of Asger Jorn Wifredo Lam travels to Albissola in 1954, a center of the Italian ceramic production, where he finally settles down in 1962. In his studio his collection of non-western art is growing, bearing witness to the manifold sources of his inspiration and his commitment to the art of the “primitives”. Based on his experiences with terra-cotta he dedicates to ceramics and creates about 300 ceramic works in 1975, varying the creative process by the duration of baking and the transformation of colors. The symbolism of his paintings and drawings is reflected in the medium of ceramic. On further journeys he travels to Egypt, India, Thailand and Mexico, while his recognition as international artist is growing globally.
Wifredo Lam, Untitled (The Bush), 1958
In 1982 Wifredo Lam dies during the work on the etching L’Herbe sous les paves after a text by Jean-Dominique Rey. His politically committed work in which Wifredo Lam explored the multifaceted ways of expressing in various media, in painting, drawing, printing, terra-cotta and ceramic, was dedicated to the same struggle as his friend Aimé Césaire: “To paint the drama of his country, the cause and the spirit of the blacks”.
06.04. – 15.08.16 Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid