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High Museum of Art mounts retrospective of renowned 20th century artist Wifredo Lam
Wifredo Lam (Cuban, 1902-1982), Grand Capricorne, 1944. Oil on paper mounted on canvas, 25 × 38 3/16 inches (63.5 × 97 cm). Ella Fontanals-Cisneros Collection. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.

ATLANTA, GA.- The High Museum of Art presents a retrospective of work by Wifredo Lam, a preeminent artist of Latin American origin and one of the Surrealist movement’s most influential figures, from Feb. 14 through May 24, 2015.

“Wifredo Lam: Imagining New Worlds” features more than 40 paintings and a selection of drawings, prints and ephemera by the internationally renowned, Cuban-born artist. Many of Lam’s masterworks—drawn from public and private collections across Europe, Latin America and the U.S.—are presented together for the first time in the exhibition, which offers a rare overview and reexamination of the artist’s career. The exhibition is organized by the McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College.

“Wifredo Lam: Imagining New Worlds” sheds light on Lam’s seminal periods of artistic development, tracing the global path of his career from its academic roots in Madrid to Lam’s pivotal stay in pre-war Paris and his return to Cuba in the early 1940s. The works reveal the many important influences on Lam’s career, from the European literary and artistic avant-garde to African art.

“It is a tremendous opportunity for the High to share the story of Wifredo Lam’s prolific career with our audiences and connect them with dozens of the artist’s most exceptional works,” said Michael Rooks, Wieland Family curator of modern and contemporary art at the High. “In spite of the fact that Lam is one of the most influential artists of the latter half of the 20th century, his work is rarely displayed in North America—and for that reason he is known primarily among artists, curators, scholars and collectors. This exhibition will be a revelation for audiences and will help cultivate a broader understanding of the importance of Latin America, and cross-cultural influences, in the history of modern art.”

Born in Cuba to a Chinese father and a mother of African and Spanish descent, Lam (1902-82) gave expression to his multiracial and cultural ancestry while engaging with the major political, literary and artistic circles whose work came to define modernism in the 20th century. In 1938, Lam moved to Paris, where he absorbed the tenets of European modernism, became an important artist of the 1940s Surrealist group, and was introduced to such influential figures as Pablo Picasso and André Breton.

The impact of Lam’s interactions with artists, poets and philosophers on his work is a central theme of “Imagining New Worlds,” which examines the influence of such pioneering figures as Picasso, Breton, Federico García Lorca, Alejo Carpentier, Gabriel García Márquez and Aimé Césaire.

The exhibition also considers how the Négritude movement shaped Lam’s work. Lam discovered the literary and ideological movement during his time in Haiti through his relationship with Césaire, the Francophone writer from Martinique whose book of poetry “The Native Land” was published in Spanish translation (“Retorno al pais natal”) in 1943 with illustrations by Lam. Césaire was one of the founders of the movement, which focuses on a black identity that rejects French colonialism.

Returning to Havana in 1941, Lam arrived at his signature hybrid style of painting: a blend of surrealism, magic realism, modernism and postmodernism characterized by a cross-cultural fusion of influences including Afro-Cuban symbolism and imagery related to the Santería religion practiced in the Caribbean.

Significant works featured in the exhibition include:

• “Anamu” (1942) – one of the earliest examples in the exhibition of Lam’s use of hybrid imagery

• “Le Sombre Malembo, Dieu du carrefour” (1943) – embodies Lam’s quintessential style combining Afro-Cuban-inspired imagery and themes related to the tropical landscape of Cuba

• “Femme-Cheval” (1948) – depicts a recurring theme in Lam’s work, a hybrid womanhorse personage, which also underscores the influence of Picasso

• “Près des Îles Vierges” (1959) – an example of Lam’s painting on a grand scale, which approaches a greater degree of abstraction than in his earlier work

• “Grande Composition” (1960) – a late, monumental work that summarizes the fundamental innovations in Lam’s career

The exhibition is curated by Elizabeth T. Goizueta, adjunct curator, McMullen Museum of Art and lecturer in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, Boston College. Rooks is the managing curator of the High’s presentation.

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