Wifredo Lam

In Focus

Nov 9 – Dec 18, 2021

As part of its ongoing series of online In Focus exhibitions, Pace is presenting two late-career paintings by Wifredo Lam in this dedicated OVR. Both works figure in the in-person exhibition Wifredo Lam: The Imagination at Work, which is on view at 510 West 25th Street in New York from November 10 to December 21. Lam, who early in his career associated with major figures in the surrealist and cubist movements in Europe, cultivated a shapeshifting and ever evolving practice over the course of his life. The paintings in this presentation, both untitled from 1972, reflect Lam’s interest in machinic, angular figures during the 1970s, a period in which he explored new, radical frontiers beyond his earlier sources of inspiration.

Wifredo Lam, Sans titre, 1972, oil on canvas, 17-5/8" × 13-7/8" (44.8 cm × 35.2 cm)

A true picture has the power to set the imagination to work.

Wifredo Lam

Wifredo Lam, Sans titre, 1972, oil on canvas, 17-3/4" × 13-3/4" (45.1 cm × 34.9 cm)

A virtuosic draughtsman, Lam had always been keen on incorporating drawn lines into his most ambitious paintings, which were often done on paper. With his later works, the artist embraced this graphic sensibility by emphasizing crisp, powerful lines that made his figures pop against starkly empty backgrounds. Floating in an ambiguous, shallow space, Lam’s figures convey a sense of dislocation and alienation, possibly gesturing to the artist’s difficult reintegration into French society when animosity towards people of African origins was growing amid the Algerian War.

[2021.18 PH 025].jpg

Wifredo Lam in the garden outside his studio in Albissola Marina, Italy, 1979

During this later period of his career, Lam favored increasingly abstract and fragmented figures, departing from an iconography he had developed in the 1940s that focused on Santería, an Afro-Cuban religion he had known since his childhood. The present two paintings, which feature cyborg-like creatures, evince this change in the artist’s sensibility. The futurity visually encoded in Lam’s late style suggests that he did not tether his Afro-Cuban artistic idiom to a mythical past. Rather, his repertoire of forms continuously evolved, becoming a vehicle for Black futures.

Wifredo Lam, Sans titre, 1972, oil on canvas, 17-5/8" × 13-7/8" (44.8 cm × 35.2 cm)
Wifredo Lam, Sans titre, 1972, oil on canvas, 17-3/4" × 13-3/4" (45.1 cm × 34.9 cm)

About the Artist

Born in Cuba to a Chinese father and Congolese-Iberian mother, Wifredo Lam is widely considered one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. Having trained in Spain and France in the early years of his career, the artist became lifelong friends and associates with major figures of the European avant-garde, including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Georges Braque. His work was in dialogue with key surrealist and cubist artists and, over the course of his life, Lam transformed modernist painting through his unique cross-cultural hybridization of art.

  • Past, Wifredo Lam, In Focus, Nov 9, 2021