Diálogos contructivistas en la Vanguardia Cubana

untold tales

/ 1 September, 2016

To Maria Elena Jubrías, for the secret inspiration and the not always easy mutual love.

In recent years the work of artists creating in Cuba, in particular those working within the boundaries of Abstract art after World War II, has been the focus of wide international attention. For many this observation comes as a surprise, especially when it seems opposed to the work by other members of Vanguardia Cubana, more inclined to create in a figurative mood and interested in building upon the ideals of national identity.

There might be several reasons for this latest development, but undoubtedly the recent scrutiny to which Latin American art has been subjected is a factor, due to its research and the study by art historians and curators. Consequently, their efforts have found a receptive dynamic echo in private  collections  that, through their force, have helped to move the production of those abstract artists to the frontline, heading into exhibitions in museums and galleries from Havana and Miami to London and New York.

Leading galleries like Galerie Lelong have recently added noteworthy substance to the conversation with the exhibition, Diálogos Constructivistas en la Vanguardia Cubana: Amelia Peláez, Loló Soldevilla and Zilia Sánchez (April 28 – June 25, 2016), with the consulting curatorship of Ingrid W. Elliott. The show was accompanied by a well prepared and illustrated exhibition catalog featuring an essay by the curator, titled Between the Real and the Invisible.

The exhibition has been curated using artworks in several mediums, from works on paper, drawings and ceramics by Amelia Peláez (1896-1968), collages and sculptures by Loló Soldevilla (1901-1971) and Zilia Sánchez (b. 1926), as well as from paintings by the three artists. Giving equal attention to each artist, the thirty one pieces were accompanied by a display of ephemeral materials, like historical exhibition catalogues and photographs. In addition it included a vintage homemade color film of Havana from the late 1940s, shot by the Cuban-born art historian and founding curator and director of the Museum of the American States, José Gómez Sicre (1916-1991). The film could be seen as a homage to Gómez Sicre’s centennial.

In her essay in the catalog, Ms. Elliot is able to successfully shed some significant light on the intellectual connections   between the works of these three Cuban amazon painters. She articulates organically the relationship of the works of Amelia and Loló, and how Sánchez took on their pictorial legacy, clearly pointing out what brings them together and apart. However, at times, she fails to establish a more complete background against which those artists were working in the island, and misses substance in her historical research.

Those Constructivist Dialogues on which the exhibition at Galerie Lelong focuses were started much earlier than the 1950s frames chosen by the curator to illustrate, and those exchanges built the base connecting the pictorial conversation between Peláez, Soldevilla and Sánchez. Along the way, the work of many artists that at the time were fundamental in the development of abstraction in Cuba have fallen into oblivion; today only a handful of them have been internationally “re-discovered” under the present currents. (…)

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