Umberto Peña - New Now New York Wednesday, September 28, 2022 | Phillips

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  • "The monstrosity, the grotesque, the fantastically terrifying, the horrifying and heartbreaking make Peña's work a high point and unique within the artistic panorama of the first decade of the Revolution. His combination of pop elements with the emotional force of expressionism makes his plastic production an unusual and exceptional case within Cuban art."
    —Danislady Mazzorra
    Painted in 1967, Fooo Muchas Veces showcases the unique style of the Cuban artist and graphic designer Umberto Peña: a combination of Pop Art, Figuration and the emotional force present in Expressionism. This same year, he received an award at the Fifth Paris Biennale of Young Artists, just after receiving a special award at the Havana Exhibition, a Latin American art exhibition organized by House of the Americas in 1964. The 1960s were the most productive years in the artist's career. This decade was marked by the ongoing social and political upheavals in his home country, which served as the main inspiration for the topics he addressed through making art. Charged with a rebellious spirit, the present work is a stunning example of Umberto Peña’s expressive visual effects and its unique representation of the Cuban art scene in the 1960s. 


    Antonia Eiriz, Untitled, 1960. Artwork: © Antonia Eiriz.

    The Cuban Art Scene in the 1960s


    Born in Havana, Cuba in 1937, Umberto Peña was deeply influenced by the changes that went on in his home country after the arrival of Fidel Castro to the presidency in 1959, and the social changes the communist Revolution brought. The dogmatic mindset imposed by the regimen changed the cultural and artistic art scene in Cuba. Creative freedom was especially compromised after Fidel Castro’s infamous “Words to Intellectuals” speech in 1961, an unfortunate event that discouraged intellectual creativity and limited art to express the government ideals and ambitions.i For Peña, art became an expression of violence and tragedy; a representation of the disturbing changes of the time. The artist’s grotesque graphics pushed him to the forefront of this critical movement. Organs and guts appear and re-appear in his oeuvre as terrifying and tortured beings, a near direct reference to Castro’s speech on “words” and how they should be “spoken."ii As seen in the present work, Peña communicated this violence through the depiction of human innards and objects such as toilets. “Foo foo” is a Cuban expression to denote an unpleasant smell, an expression of disgust. In the composition, there is a cry that seems to come from the bowels. Through an array of bold colors, text and bodily forms, the artist invites the viewer to interpret its encrypted meaning, although with a clear tone of violence and terror.



    Pop Art, Figuration and Expressionism


    Fooo Muchas Veces brings together the artist’s expressive rawness and Pop Art style through a colorful and graphic composition. The appropriative nature of American and British Pop Art aesthetics had a clear impact on Peña’s work. His style goes beyond Pop, also showing an expressive emotion that can be compared to the work of other Cuban artists like Antonia Eiriz and Raúl Martínez. The contrast of serene colors like blue and green in this composition, in contrast with the red background that alludes to blood, violence; with the thick lines of the contours, typical of comics and Pop art, are a testament to this. 


    i Yvonn Grenier, Culture and the Cuban Sate: Participaction, Recognition, and Dissonance under Communism, Maryland, 2017, pp. 26–28.
    ii Danislady Mazorra, “Umberto Peña y lo fantástico grotesco” Wall Street International Magazine, May 12, 2015 online.

    • Provenance

      Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

    • Literature

      Carlos Domínguez, "De la madurez a la excelencia," Cubaencuentro, September 14, 2012, online (titled as Fooo fooo fooo muchas veces)
      Danislady Mazorra, "Umberto Peña y lo fantástico grotesco," Wall Street International Magazine, May 12, 2015, online (illustrated, titled as Foo Foo Fooo muchas veces)
      Carlos Aguilera, Umberto Peña: Bocas, dientes, cepillos, restos, Leiden, 2020, pp. 56, 57 (illustrated, p. 57)


Fooo Muchas Veces

signed and dated "PEÑA/67" lower right; titled and inscribed "FOOO MUCHAS VECES / FOO, FOO, FOO" on the reverse
oil on canvas
66 5/8 x 65 5/8 in. (169.2 x 166.7 cm)
Painted in 1967.

Full Cataloguing

$12,000 - 18,000 

Sold for $50,400

Contact Specialist

Avery Semjen
Head of Sale, New Now
212 940 1207

New Now

New York Auction 28 September 2022