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Wifredo Lam (1902-1982)
Wifredo Lam (1902-1982)

La Barrière

Wifredo Lam (1902-1982)
La Barrière
signed and dated 'Wifredo Lam 1964' (lower left) signed and dated again 'Wifredo Lam 1964' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
45 7/8 x 35 1/4 in. (116.5 x 89.4 cm.)
Painted in 1964.
Galleria Arte Borgogna, Milan.
Private collection, Milan (acquired from the above in the 1970s).
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, Paris, 30 May 2012, lot 35 (illustrated in color).
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Exhibition catalogue, Wifredo Lam, Peintures récentes, Paris, Galerie Villand et Galanis, 1968, no. 19 (illustrated).
Exhibition catalogue, Wifredo Lam, Oelbilder, Zeichnungen, Druckgraphik, Frankfurt, Frankfurter Kunstkabinett Hanna Bekker Vom Rath, 1969, no. 23 (illustrated).
Exhibition catalogue, Wifredo Lam, Milan, Galleria Bergamini, 1969 (illustrated).
Exhibition catalogue, Wifredo Lam, Geneva, Galerie Jan Krugier, 1970, p. 31, no. 20 (illustrated and again as a detail on the cover).
Exhibition catalogue, Wifredo Lam, Milan, Galleria Arte Borgogna, 1970 (illustrated).
Exhibition catalogue, Wifredo Lam, London, Gimpel Fils Gallery, 1970, no. 9 (illustrated).
Exhibition catalogue, Der Geist des Surrealismus, Albin Brunovski, Gemälde, Druckgraphik, Wifredo Lam, Oelbilder, Cologne, Baukunst Galerie, 1971 (illustrated in color on the cover).
M.-P. Fouchet, Wifredo Lam, Barcelona and Paris, Polígrafa /Cercle d'Art, 1976, p. 122, no. 141 (illustrated in color).
M.-P. Fouchet, Wifredo Lam, 2nd ed., Barcelona and Paris, Polígrafa/Cercle d'Art, 1989, p. 126, no. 141 (illustrated in color).
L. Laurin-Lam and E. Lam, Wifredo Lam: Catalogue Raisonné of the Painted Work, Volume II, 1961-1982, Lausanne, Acatos, 2002, p. 129, no. 8 (illustrated in color), p. 282, no. 64.29 (illustrated).
Paris, Galerie Villand et Galanis, Wifredo Lam, Peintures récentes, November-December 1968, no. 19.
Frankfurt, Frankfurter Kunstkabinett Hanna Bekker Vom Rath, Wifredo Lam, Oelbilder, Zeichnungen, Druckgraphik, 3 July-16 August 1969, no. 23.
Milan, Galleria Bergamini, Wifredo Lam, 1969.
Geneva, Galerie Jan Krugier, Wifredo Lam, March 1970, no. 20.
Milan, Galleria Arte Borgogna, Wifredo Lam, June 1970.
London, Gimpel Fils Gallery, Wifredo Lam, 6-24 October, no. 9.
Milan, Galleria Arte Borgogna, Wifredo Lam 1969-1971, 1971, no. 14.
Cologne, Baukunst Galerie, Der Geist des Surrealismus, Albin Brunovski, Gemälde, Druckgraphik, Wifredo Lam, Oelbilder, 1971-72.

Lot Essay

We are grateful to Eskil Lam for his assistance cataloguing this work.

Looking back on the early 1940s when he pioneered a radical new aesthetic vision, Wifredo Lam reflected, “I knew I was running the risk of not being understood either by the man in the street or by the others [the art world]. But a true picture has the power to set the imagination to work even if it takes time.”1 In the decades that followed, Lam continuously “set the imagination to work” with paintings and drawings of enigmatic beauty that seamlessly synthesize Cubist and Surrealist principles with Afro-Caribbean imagery. Informed by the work of his friends Pablo Picasso, André Breton and Aimé Césaire, Lam transformed and transcended the words and images of these contemporaries, creating his own compelling visual poetry that astounded the international art world and established his position as one of the twentieth century’s most innovative and significant modernists.

By the time Lam painted La barrière in 1964, he had been honored with solo exhibitions in Havana, New York, Paris, London and Stockholm, among other places, and his work had entered some of the world’s most important collections such as New York’s Museum of Modern Art. La barrière is thus the work of a mature and confidant artist, one who had moved beyond the sometimes jarring imagery of his earlier years in favor of a more abstract composition rendered in a subtle palette of blue-grays, pale yellows and pearly whites that exudes an effortless harmony. Rather than packing his canvas with figures from the animal, human and spirit worlds as he had done so many times before, here Lam chooses sparingly from his repertoire of Afro-Caribbean subjects including just two eleggua heads within his tightly woven matrix of angular and rounded forms. Considered one of the most important deities in the syncretic Afro-Caribbean religion of Santería, the eleggua is believed to be the guardian at the crossroads between the natural and supernatural worlds. As the gatekeeper to the beyond, the eleggua seems a particularly apt symbol for La barrière, suggesting the possibility of an opening in Lam’s painted barrier where we may pass through to the other side.

1 Quoted in L. Stokes Sims, “Myths and Primitivism: The Work of Wifredo Lam in the Context of the New York School and the School of Paris, 1942-1952,” in J. Leenhardt et al., Wifredo Lam and His Contemporaries, New York, The Studio Museum in Harlem, 1992, p. 77.

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