Wifredo Lam - Latin America New York Tuesday, November 22, 2016 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

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

  • Exhibited

    Paris, Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, V Salon de Grands et Jeunes d'aujourd'hiu, hommage à Jean Cocteau, 1963-1964

  • Literature

    L. Lam, Wifredo Lam - Catalogue Raisonné of the Painted Work, Vol. 2 1961 - 1982, 2006, p. 262, No. 62.28 (illustrated in black and white)
    E. Jaguer, Les armes miraculeuses de Wifredo Lam, Art International, IX, Lugano, June 1965, no. 5, p. 22 (illustrated in black and white)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “I have made the journey of Christopher Columbus in reverse,” Lam remarked in 1972,” from the Antilles to Liguria.” His transatlantic crossings had begun a half-century earlier, when he first left Havana for Madrid in 1923, and shaped his practice in the intervening decades as he traveled from Paris to Martinique, Caracas to New York. The most internationally acclaimed artist of Cuba’s historical vanguardia, Lam traveled betwixt the Paris of Picasso and the Afro-Cuban rituals of the island, imaging the strange and surreal confluences of Western and “primitive” cultures in paintings—famously, The Jungle (1943)—that probed the colonial past and present. He left the revolutionary tumult in Cuba in April 1958 and eventually settled between Zurich and Albissola, where he found respite in the mild Mediterranean climes and entered a period of retrospection in his work. Warmly received by the community of artists there, he embarked on new experiments with printmaking and ceramics and celebrated the birth of his sons Eskil (1961) and Timour (1962). “Albissola, a traditional centre of Italian ceramics, was a hub of excitement, activity and artistic exchange at the time my father was there,” Eskil has recalled. “My mother called it ‘Albissolamania.’ She remembers one occasion when [Enrico] Baj and [Sergio] Dangelo, together with [Lucio] Fontana, Roberto Crippa and Piero Manzoni, came to welcome them off a train from Paris, reciting poetry and handing them enormous panettoni.”

    The Albissola years saw new distillations of his iconography, the mythology of familiar characters—orishas, femmes-cheval—rendered in increasingly clarified visual forms. “Now [Lam’s] color is cleaner,” James Johnson Sweeney wrote of his painting from this period, “the elements of his composition swim clear against the grounds that are always laden with hints, suggestions…which grow directly out of the medium itself and its application—not arbitrary conventions with readily legible forms.” This refinement is seen in such works as Près des Îles Vierges (1959) and Les enfants sans âme (1964) as well as in Midnight, in which minimally drawn figures materialize out of a tenebrous ground. “While cubism and surrealism were essential to the development of his style, his painting was always something on its own, and even more so in the later years—the work is more abstract, the hybrid figures more menacing,” his son Eskil observed. “By the time he’s in Albissola, you tend to see monochrome backgrounds with hardly any detail, often just a simple wash—everything becomes concentrated in the line.”

    Midnight is an elegant example of Lam’s painting during this time and its slippages between figure and ground, syncretic and rhetorical bodies. A variation of the rarefied femme-cheval motif predominant in his work since the late 1940s, the central figure rises gracefully in space, her equine neck slender and seductive. Its arching, attenuated form is echoed in the spike that protrudes from her back and in the almost incorporeal tail that dissolves into an outlined form suggestive of the deity Eleggua, identified by his round head and horns; traces of his body hover to the right, his presence multiple and occult. A personification of ritual possession in the Afro-Cuban religion of Lucumí, or Santería, which Lam studied as a child with his godmother, the femme-cheval embodies the carnality of the feminine body and its transgressive prowess. Dimly luminous, Midnight evokes the darkness of the witching hour in velvety washes of pigment that envelop its subject, her figure receding into and out of the shadowy ground, within and beyond this world.

    Abigail McEwen, PhD

  • 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.

$450,000 - 650,000 

Contact Specialist
Kaeli Deane
Head of Sale, Latin American Art
New York
+1 212 940 1352

Latin America

New York Auction 22 November 2016