Wifredo Lam - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Wednesday, May 16, 2018 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Albert Loeb Gallery, New York
    Pyramid Galleries, Washington D.C.
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, V Salon de Grands et Jeunes d'aujourd'hui, hommage à Jean Cocteau, 1963 - 1964, n.p. (illustrated)

  • Literature

    Edouard Jaguer, "Les armes miraculeuses de Wifredo Lam," Art International, vol. IX, no. 5, Lugano, June, 1965, p. 22 (illustrated)
    Lou Laurin-Lam, Wifredo Lam Catalogue Raisonné of the Painted Work, vol. 2, 1961 - 1982, Lausanne, 1996-2002, no. 62.28, p. 262 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “Lam is undoubtedly one of the very first from the Third World to instinctively grasp the latent relationship that exists between the inventiveness of the greatest Western painters and the inventiveness that presides over the art of all primitive communities.”
    Max-Pol Fouchet, Wifredo Lam, Barcelona & Paris, 1989, p. 79

    By the time he painted Midnight, 1962, Wifredo Lam had spent decades traveling and exhibiting his work in Madrid, Havana, New York, Paris and Caracas. Often associated with Surrealism, Lam’s paintings juxtapose the Afro-Cuban rituals of his native country Cuba with a deep understanding of European modernism. In 1958, Lam left the revolutionary tumult in Cuba and settled for a time in Albissola, Italy, where he was warmly received by the community of artists there that included Piero Manzoni and Lucio Fontana, amongst others. The Albissola years saw new distillations of his iconic femmes cheval, or horse-headed women, often composed of flat geometric shapes depicted in moody tones of green, brown, gray and black, as seen in the present lot.

    For Lam, the femmes cheval symbolize the devotees of the Afro-Cuban religion Lucumí, yet unlike his earlier paintings of the same subject, which feature brighter colors and almost impressionist brushstrokes, the 1960s paintings begin to bleed into the realm of formal abstraction. They present an undeniable fluctuation between figure and ground, due to the monochromatic palette and simplified forms, yet the figure never disappears entirely. In Midnight, both the femme cheval and the Eleggua deities, easily recognizable by their round heads and horns, are clearly present, referencing back to Lam’s preoccupation with his Afro-Cuban roots. In a conversation with Max-Pol Fouchet in 1989, Lam eloquently articulated this energy behind his work: “I wanted with all my heart to paint the drama of my country, but by thoroughly expressing the Negro spirit, the beauty of the plastic art of the blacks. In this way I would act as a Trojan horse that would spew forth hallucinating figures with the power to surprise, to disturb the dreams of the exploiters. I knew I was running the risk of not being understood either by the man in the street or by the others. But a true picture has the power to set the imagination to work, even if it takes time.” (Wifredo Lam, quoted in Max-Pol Fouchet, Wifredo Lam, Barcelona & Paris, 1989, p. 192)

  • Artist Biography

    Wifredo Lam

    Cuban • 1902 - 1982

    Wifredo Lam was born in Sagua la Grande, Cuba and was of mixed Chinese, European, Indian and African descent. He studied under Fernando Álvarez de Sotomayor, curator for the Museo del Prado and teacher of Salvador Dalí.

    While studying in Spain, he met Pablo Picasso, who would become his mentor and friend as well as one of his great supporters, introducing him to the intelligentsia of the time. Lam significantly contributed to modernism during his prolific career as painter, printmaker, sculptor and ceramist. His works explored Cubism and expanded the inventive parameters of Surrealism while negotiating figuration and abstraction with a unique blend of Afro-Cuban and Surrealist iconography. His iconic visual language incorporated syncretic and fantastical objects and combined human-animal figures fused with lush vegetation.

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signed and dated "Wi Lam 1962" lower left
oil on canvas
49 3/4 x 43 3/8 in. (126.4 x 110.2 cm.)
Painted in 1962, this work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by Lou Laurin-Lam.

$280,000 - 350,000 

Contact Specialist
John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
New York
+1 212 940 1261

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 16 May 2018