Wilfredo Lam was one of very few artists from beyond the American and European art world to receive high recognition from many critics. Born in Cuba in 1902 of Chinese, Spanish and African heritage, Lam lived and worked on both sides of the Atlantic and travelled extensively during periods of great political change. Consequently, the artist’s sixty-year career was linked to major historical events, including the Spanish Civil War, the evacuation of artists and intellectuals from France with the onset of World War II and the Cuban Revolution.
Artistically, Lam’s work defined new ways of painting for a post-colonial world that combined traditional practices, surrealist ideas and complete originality. With over 200 paintings, drawings, photographs and prints, the Tate Modern now devotes a major retrospective to celebrate and confirm the surrealist’s position in a global modernism.
Lam spent the early years of his career in Spain from where he moved on to engage with the European avant-garde movements, finding inspiration in the works of Pablo Picasso, whom he had met in Paris in 1938. Forced to leave the city in 1940 due to its occupation, Lam joined Andre Breton and other surrealists in Marseille to participate in artistic projects. Only one year later, the political situation again makes the artist leave, which is when he returns to Cuba and disappointedly finds corruption, racism and poverty in his home country. Lam didn’t return to Europe until 1952, where he worked with Lucio Fontana among others until the end of his life.
Seen within the political and cultural contexts and intersections during Lam’s life, the exhibition hosts major works from his entire career that reflect his dealing with human, plant and animal forms as well as symbols borrowed from Cuban Occultism and Afro-Cuban beliefs among the influence of his European contemporaries. Finally, it brings a historical perspective to contemporary issues in an increasingly connected world; a global world that was already home to this modernist, diverse painter whose legacy challenges existing perceptions about modern art. Wilfredo Lam is part of a six year arts partnership between EY and Tate that will support a number of exhibitions in the future.
The EY Exhibition, Wilfredo Lam, opens 14 September and runs until 8 January 2017, London, Tate Modern.
For more information visit www.tate.org.uk.
1. Wifredo Lam, Umbral (Seuil) (1950). Photo: Georges Meguerditchian/Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI/Dist. RMN-GP ©Adagp, Paris