Portrait of the artist, 1963, image via W Magazine

Wifredo Lam/ Wifredo Óscar de la Concepción Lam y Castilla

Cuba 1902 - 1982

Surrealism, Painting

www.wifredolam.net

Wifredo Lam
Wifredo Óscar de la Concepción Lam y Castilla
Male
Cuba
1902

The astonishing body of work of Wilfredo Lam represents complex practice interwoven with both purely artistic topics and philosophical and political aspirations. He was the fertile painter, well connected and recognized on the international scale and such a reputation was followed by the continuity of his painterly practice with several departures to ceramics and sculpture in his late years. The way Lam constructed his oeuvre by drawing inspiration from spiritual traditions of Southern America, socialism and modernist trends of the time, ranked him as one of the most authentic and progressive artist’s of the first half of the twentieth century.

The modern approach to painterly surface made Wifredo Lam both famous at home and internationally
Wifredo Lam – Hanging Houses, 1927 – image via tate.org.uk

Multiethnic Background

Wifredo Óscar de la Concepción Lam y Castilla or Wifredo Lam was born on December 8, 1902, in a village of Sagua La Grande, in Cuba. Yam Lam, the artist’s father, was a Chinese immigrant while his mother Ana Serafina Castilla descended from Congolese slave mother and Cuban mulatto father. That origin made him not only of a mixed race, yet he was exposed to diverse cultural influences in terms of Catholicism and African spiritual practices, which respectively became the central motif of his work. At the age of 14, Lam moved to Havana to study law according to a desire of his family. In parallel, he became involved in a tropical plants course at the Botanical Gardens, and at the Escuela de Bellas Artes studied painting from 1918 to 1923 when suddenly he was fed up with the academy and fled to Madrid.

Avant-garde sensibilty and unusual motifs

Both Pablo Picasso and Matisse were often in contact with modern this  Cuban born artist
Wifredo Lam – Lumiere de la foret (detail), 1942 – image via culturebox.francetvinfo.fr

Europe Calling

In Madrid Lam’s teacher was the famous artist Fernando Zaragoza, who taught Salvador Dali and was the curator at the Museo del Prado. The artist was a bit torn between academy classes and painters with whom he spends the rest of the time, but that did not in any way disrupted his artistic development. The works of Lam at the time merged from being rich and saturated to being simple, yet decorative. While in Spain Lem got acquainted with Eva Piriz and soon she became his wife, but sadly both she and their young son died in 1931 of tuberculosis, and this event certainly reflected on his work.

Connection with other artists make Lam part of international scene

This authentic modern artist known for being close with Picasso has passed away on 11 September 1982
Wifredo Lam – From the Same Root, 1945 – image via theredlist

Fist Full of Fascinations and Influences

Wifredo Lam was exposed to various works of art at the Prado Museum, from Hieronymus Bosch to Henri Matisse, as well as latest tendencies embodied in Surrealism. Apparently full of compassion and aware of social inequality which was related to his own background, the artist was quite moved by the hard lives of Spanish peasants and became involved in Spanish Civil War. During that period he produced posters for Republican army but was severely injured and transferred to Barcelona. Out there through some friends, he was introduced with Pablo Picasso. Lam moved to Paris in 1938 and then met Georges Braque, Juan Miro and other relevant artists from that circle.

Thin line between the religion of African spirits and Catholicism

His exhibitions of series of paintings were shown in important gallery in centre of Paris and New York
Wifredo Lam – Idoli, 1955 – image via static.robbreport

Collaborations And Success of Wifredo Lam Paintings

Shortly after being introduced to art dealer Pierre Loeb, Lam had a chance to prepare his first Paris exhibition in 1939. The influence of Cubism became more and more apparent in his work, and the same year he showed his works together with Picasso in Pels Gallery in New York. After a year, on the very beginning of World War II, Lem left to Marseille due to the German occupation of Paris where he meets Andre Breton and started working with him. It was a publication of Breton’s poem Fata Morgana which was edited with Lem’s drawings. In 1941 after being prosecuted by vicious Vichy regime a large number of intellectuals boarded the ship to the island of Martinique and they were immediately interned at the Lazaret camp, where they spent over a month. Interestedly, though the situation was rather inconvenient it served as a perfect setting to imprint and modify ideas of Surrealism according to pagan and animist traditions of Africa.

The influence of Breton was quite immense

In terms of Cuban culture, Lam has a very special place as innovator and promoter
Wifredo Lam – Untitled, 1958 – image via hyperallergic.com

Obtaining Personal Style

Soon afterward, the return to Cuba marked Lam’s unique work as a conjecture of several influences besides before mentioned Magic Realism, Cubism, Surrealism there was an imprint of Primitivism which was not surprising since of his culturally diverse background. The tradition of Caribbean and African symbolism accentuated with the references to Santeria, a hybrid religion practiced in the Caribbean, after the return to Cuba became the focal motif of his work. In that period the artist started examining that tradition with a help of Lydia Cabrera, an anthropologist and specialist in the Afro-Cuban culture who was on a task of preserving the heritage of ancestors. From the begging of his career Lam painted still life’s, landscapes and figural compositions, but as the series of paintings that he produced from 40’s onwards show increasing representations of anthropomorphic figures which due to a course of time became fully hybrids, like goodly creatures shaped out of human, animal and plants parts.[1]

The famous painting is part of MOMA collection

Wifredo Lam - The Jungle, 1943, image via nashvillearts.com
Wifredo Lam – The Jungle, 1943 – image via nashvillearts.com

The Jungle

In 1943 Wifredo Lam produced perhaps one of his most respectable works called symbolically The Jungle. This humongous canvas seems to obtain a summary of Lam’s intimate thoughts and persuasions. The narrative represents intensity and density of Afro-Cuba religions and, on one side, it seems as if it celebrates the openness of human mind, as well as the dark corners of imagination which can be a direct comment on the global political state of the time. The ambiguity of the composition makes it so exceptional primarily because it exposes the viewer to outstanding execution of artistic practice in aesthetical, social and political context. The curiosity is that the painting was for many years installed on ground floor of the New York’s prestige MOMA, next to the coatroom, so there was a controversy regarding the work being marginalized because it did not fit within colonial and exclusive discourse of Western art, which tells much about the reception of the arts of the Others.

Bizzare and hybrid figures are often present on Lam’s paintings

Wifredo Lam - New Goodness, ND, image via sothebys.com
Wifredo Lam – New Goodness, ND – image via sothebys.com

Further Artistic Development

Lam was quite supportive of the changes in his homeland, so decided to exhibit at Havana University in 1955 due to student protests against the authoritarian regime. After the change came the artist remained loyal to communist ideas and his painting El Tercer Mundo (The Third World) was produced for the president Castro’s palace. In the 60’s Lam moved to Italy with his wife Lou Laurin, a Swedish painter, and their children. That period of his life was followed by a large number of retrospective exhibitions and awards, while the artist decides to work with a media of pottery and sculpture and by the end of 70’s Wifredo Lam’s reputation became confirmed on the international scale.

Impressive body of work was produced in the period of over seven decades

Wifredo Lam - People, 1970, image via theredlist
Wifredo Lam – People, 1970 – image via theredlist

Percieving Social and Political Significance of Wifredo Lam Art

The way he has merged artistic ideas and ideological beliefs with the everlasting need to articulate his own position shows an immense effort to fight the prejudice, stereotypes and discrimination. Therefore, it can be said that his stylistically hybrid practice was based on agenda of emancipation and sensitivity for diversity. Last year Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris hosted a huge retrospective exhibition of his works which then traveled to the Reina Sofia Museum in Spain and the Tate Museum in London afterward and this year the restrospective was held in Tate Museum.[2] Finally, the relevance of showing his work is largely based on Wifredo Lam’s efforts to promote and interpret different cultural models and heritage which marks him as perhaps one of the brightest examples of engaged art in the context of Southern America.

Wifredo Lam died on September 11, 1982, in Paris.

Refernces:

  1. Jones.J, (2016): Wifredo Lam review – Cuba’s last of the true surrealists, The Guardian, [November 28, 2016]
  2. Nowlan. A.S. (2016), Who was Wifredo Lam?, 1843 Magazine, [November 28, 2016]

Featured image: Portrait of Wifredo Lam in front of his work, courtesy of W Magazine
All other images for illustrative purposes only

Upcoming Events

Alex Katz - Rowboat, 1966
Oct 24th, 2017 - Oct 24th, 2017

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Ongoing Events

Alex Katz - Rowboat, 1966
Oct 24th, 2017 - Oct 24th, 2017

Bonhams - Prints and Multiples, 10/24/2017

Bonhams Los Angeles, California, Los Angeles, United States, 7601 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90046, USA

Please select an option to add Bonhams - Prints and Multiples, 10/24/2017 into your calendar

YearExhibition TitleMuseum/GallerySolo/Group
2016Wifredo Lam and the poetsMillennium Museum, Beijingsolo
2016Wifredo LamMuseo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madridsolo
2015Wifredo Lam: Imagining New WorldsHigh Museum of Art, Atlantasolo
2014Wifredo Lam: Imagining New WorldsMcMullen Museum of Art, Boston Collegesolo
2012Fire Tongues, Ceramics by Wifredo Lam Galerie Gmurzynska, St. Moritzsolo
2012Dialogues d outre mer, Resonnances Kanak autour d Annonciation Centre Tjibaou, Noumeasolo
2012La Triennale 2012 intense proximite Palais Tokyo, Parisgroup
2012Approaching Surrealism Fondation Basil & Elise Goulandris, Andros, Grecegroup
2011AimeCesaire, Lam, Picasso Nous nous sommes trouves Grand Palais, Parisgroup
2011Les musees sont des mondes, J M G Le Clezio Musee de Louvre, Parisgroup
2011L Europe des Esprits ou la fascination de l occulte, 1750-1950 Musee d Art Moderne et Contemporain, Strasbourggroup
2010Wifredo Lam, 1902-1982, voyages entre caraïbes et avants-gardes Musee des Beaux-Arts, Nantessolo
2009Wifredo Lam, L'esperit de la creacio 1939-1976 Fundacio Caixa Girona, Gironasolo
2009Pinacoteca do Estado, Lam: a obra grafica Caixa Cultural Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeirosolo
2008Wifredo Lam One Man Show Gary Nader Fine Art, Miamisolo
2008Cuba art et histoire de 1868 a nos joursMusee des Beaux-Arts de Montreal, Montrealgroup
2007Wifredo Lam in North America The Haggerty Museum of Art, Milwaukee, USAsolo
2006Wifredo Lam, orichas Galerie Thessa Herold, Parissolo
2006Un viaje por la obra de Wifredo Lam Centro de Arte Martha Machado, Nueva Gerona, Cubasolo
2006El ultimo viaje del buque fantasma Museo Provincial, Cienfuegos, Cubasolo
2006Wifredo Lam, El Ojo del tigre Museo de Bellas Artes Gravina, Valence, Espagnesolo
2006Villa Grimaldi Fassio, Wifredo Lam Cartografia intima (1936-1959) Raccolte Frugone, Gênes, Italiesolo
2005Wifredo Lam, los anos decisivos Centro Cultural del Convenion Andres Bello, Bogotasolo
2005Maison ReneChar, Lam et les poetes Musee Campredon, L isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Francesolo
2004Wifredo Lam Casa de Andres Laguna, Segovie, Espagnesolo
2004The Pierre and Maria-Gaetana Matisse Collection The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Yorkgroup
2004La dona, metamorfosi de la modernitat Fundacio Joan Miro, Barcelonegroup
2003Lam, la ceramica e i totem Museo Civico di Arte contemporanea, Albissola Marinasolo
2002Wifredo Lam, Testaments intimes Agora, Conseil Regional de La Martinique, Fort-de-France, Martiniquesolo
2002Wifredo Lam, Pastels Galerie Thessa Herold, Parissolo
2002Wifredo Lam: The Changing image, Centennial Exhibition Yokohama Museum of Art, Yokohama, Japonsolo
2002Wifredo Lam: un percoso Cuba - italia Refettorio delle Stelline, Milansolo
2002Wifredo Lam, de lo circunscrito y lo eterno Centro de Arte Contemporaneo Wifredo Lam, La Havanesolo
2002Centre Georges Pompidou, La Revolution surrealiste Musee National d Art moderne, Parisgroup
2001Lam metis Musee Dapper, Parissolo
2001Wifredo Lam imagenes desde el grabado Centro de Arte Contemporaneo Wifredo Lam, La Havanesolo
2001Surrealism, desire unbound The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Londresgroup
2000Vii Bienal de La Habana, La Aventura de la creacion, Obra sobre papel, 1938-1947 Biblioteca Nacional JoseMarti, La Havanesolo
2000Les surrealistes en exil et les debuts de l ecole de New York Musee d Art moderne et contemporain, Strasbourggroup
2000Le surrealisme, une revolution 1922-1944, Hommage a Max Ernst Centro Saint-Benin, Aoste, Italiegroup
1999Surrealism: Two Private Eyes, The Nesuhi Ertegun and Daniel Filipacchi Collections Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New Yorkgroup
1996Wifredo Lam, paintings Galerie Lelong, New Yorksolo
199623rd Biennal internacional de Sao PauloSao Paologroup
1995Wifredo Lam, Pasion y Magia sobre Papel Museo Nacional de BellasArtes, Buenos-Airessolo
1994Wifredo Lam, ouvre graveet lithographieMaison de l Amerique latine, Parissolo
1993Wifredo Lam: A Tribute Gary Nader Fine Art, Coral Gables, USAsolo
1993Lateinamerika und der Surrealismus Museum Bochum, Bochum, Allemagnegroup
1992Wifredo Lam, obras desde 1938 hasta 1975, de regreso al Caribe Arsenal de la Puntilla, San Juan, Porto Ricosolo
1991Grafica de Wifredo Lam Istituto italo-Latino-Americano, Romesolo
1990Wifredo Lam, ceramiques Galerie Lelong, Parissolo
1990Anxious Visions: Surrealist Art University Art Museum, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, USAgroup
1989Wifredo Lam, oleos, pasteles y agua-fuertes Galeria Der Brücke, Buenos Airessolo
1988Wifredo Lam Galerie AsbOk, Copenhaguesolo
1987Wifredo Lam, peintures Galerie Maeght Lelong, Parissolo
1987La Femme et le Surrealisme Musee cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Lausannegroup
1986Wifredo Lam Galerie editart, Genevesolo
1986Unknown18a Bienal internacional, Sao Paulogroup
1985Wifredo Lam Galerie Arenthon, Parissolo
1984Wifredo Lam Spazio immagine, Milansolo
1984La Rime et la Raison, les collections Menil, Houston-New York Grand Palais, Parisgroup
1983presentation de L herbe sous les paves de Jean-Dominique Rey Librairie L Arbre Voyageur, Parissolo
1983Art contre - against Apartheid Galerie Maeght, Parisgroup
1982Wifredo Lam Galerie Arenthon, Parissolo
1982Les Fruits de l exil, hommage a Lam Grand Palais, Parisgroup
1981Oli, disegni, acquaforti di Wifredo Lam Galleria Spazio immagine, Milansolo
1980Wifredo Lam, dessins de la serie, Le COur de mon enfance Galerij Dobbelhoef, Kessel, Belgiquesolo
1979Wifredo Lam, La Jungle Musee national d Art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Parissolo
1978Wifredo Lam, sculptures Prospect Art Gallery, Bruxellessolo
1978Dada and Surrealism Reviewed Arts Council of Great Britain, Hayward Gallery, Londresgroup
1977Wifredo Lam Galeria italia, Alicante, Espagnesolo
1976Wifredo Lam Galleria d Arte La Borgognona, Romesolo
1976Maestros latinoamericanos Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexicogroup
1975Wifredo Lam Galerie Borjeson, Malmo, Suedesolo
1975Centre Georges Pompidou, Contemporains i, peinture, sculptureMusee National d Art moderne, Parisgroup
1974Lam Galerie de Zwarte Panter, Anvers, Belgiquesolo
1974Phases entre deux octobres: 1964-1974 Musee d ixelles and Museum Van Elsene, Bruxellesgroup
1973Wifredo Lam Galleria Angolare, Milansolo
1972Wifredo Lam, ouvres de 1940-1950 Galerie Albert Loeb, Parissolo
1972Der Surrealismus 1922-1942 Haus der Kunst, Munichgroup
1971Wifredo Lam, ouvres anciennes Galerie Albert Loeb, Parissolo
1970Wifredo Lam, lithographies, eaux-fortes, gouaches MJC de Fresnes, Fresnes, Francesolo
1970Surrealism Malmogroup
1969Wifredo Lam Galleria Bergamini, Milansolo
1969Twentieth Century Art from the Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller Collection The Museum of Modern Art, New Yorkgroup
1968Wifredo Lam, ouvres de 1962 a 1968 Galerie Villand et Galanis, Parissolo
1968Totems et Tabous, Lam, Matta, PenalbaMusee d Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, Parisgroup
1967Pastels recents, presentation de L Antichambre de la Nature d Alain Jouffroy Galerie Albert Loeb, Parissolo
1967Dix Ans d art vivant 1955-1965 Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Francegroup
1966Lam, oleos y aguafuertes Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, La Havanesolo
1965Artistes latino-americains de Paris Musee d Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, Parisgroup
1964Lam Galleria Notizie, Turinsolo
1964Guggenheim international Award 1964 The Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New Yorkgroup
1963Wifredo Lam: A Decade 1942-1952, Oils, Gouaches, Drawings, Graphics Pyramid Galleries, Washington DCsolo
1962Wifredo Lam Galerie D Benador, Genevesolo
1961Wifredo Lam University of Notre-Dame Art Gallery, Notre-Dame, USAsolo
1960Cartella di litografie di LamGalleria Pagani del Grattacielo, Milansolo
1960Pintura Contemporanea en Cuba Museu de Arte Moderna, Sao Paulogroup
1959Opere recenti di Lam Galleria Pagani del Grattacielo, Milansolo
1959Some Recent Gifts The Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New Yorkgroup
1957Exposition de dessins de Wifredo Lam Galerie Cahiers d art, Parissolo
1957 Phasen-Phases Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdamgroup
1956Wifredo Lam Universidad de Santa Clara, Santa Clara, Cubasolo
1955Wifredo Lam Universidad de La Habana, Pabellon de Ciencias Sociales, La Havanesolo
1953Lam, peintures recentes Galerie Maeght, Parissolo
1952Wifredo Lam Institute of Contemporary Art, Londressolo
1952L ouvre du XXe siecle, peintures- sculptures Musee national d Art moderne, Parisgroup
1951Lam y nuestro tiempo, Paris 1938-1951 La Habana Galeria Sociedad Nuestro Tiempo, La Havanesolo
1950Lam Pierre Matisse Gallery, New Yorksolo
1948Wifredo Lam Pierre Matisse Gallery, New Yorksolo
194840 000 Years of Modern Art: A Comparison of Primitive and Modern Academy Hall, The institute of Contemporary Art, Londresgroup
1947Le Surrealisme en 1947The Art institute of Chicago, Chicagogroup
1946Wifredo Lam Galerie Pierre, Parissolo
1946Group Show Pierre Matisse Gallery, New Yorkgroup
1945Lam, Recent Paintings Pierre Matisse Gallery, New Yorksolo
1945Les peintres modernes cubains Centre d Art Galerie, Port-au-Princegroup
1944Lam Paintings Pierre Matisse Gallery, New Yorksolo
1944Exposicion de pintura en beneficio de intelectuales espanoles exiliados institucion hispano cubana de cultura, La Havanegroup
1943The Latin American Collection of The Museum of Modern Art The Museum of Modern Art, New Yorkgroup
1942Lam Paintings Pierre Matisse Gallery, New Yorksolo
1942First Papers of SurrealismWhitelaw Reid Mansion, New Yorkgroup
1940Art representatif de notre temps Galerie Mai, Cahiers d art , Parisgroup
1939Wifredo Lam, peintures Galerie Pierre, Parissolo
1932Wifredo LamCirculo de Arte, Leon, Espagnesolo
1932IVa Exposicion colectiva de arte El Salon Permanente de Arte, Leon, Espagnegroup
1931Federacion iberica de artistas pintores Museo de Arte Moderno, Madridgroup
1928Wifredo LamGaleria Vilches, Madridsolo
1926UnknownExposicion de pintura, Cuenca, Espagnegroup
1923Wifredo LamLa Sociedad-Circulo de Cultura y Recreos, Sagua la Grande, Cubasolo
1923UnknownSalon de Bellas Artes, La Havanegroup