WIFREDO LAM (1902-1982)
WIFREDO LAM (1902-1982)
WIFREDO LAM (1902-1982)
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WIFREDO LAM (1902-1982)
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WIFREDO LAM (1902-1982)

La réunion III

Details
WIFREDO LAM (1902-1982)
La réunion III
signed 'Wifredo Lam' (lower right)
oil and charcoal on canvas
41 1⁄2 x 51 1⁄4 in. (105.4 x 130.2 cm.)
Executed in 1964
Provenance
G. Gastaldelli, Milan.
Pescoli collection, Milan.
Galleria Gissi, Turin.
Galleria La Bussola, Turin.
Literature
L. Laurin-Lam and E. Lam, Wifredo Lam: Catalogue Raisonné of the Painted Work, 1961-1982, Lausanne, 2002, vol. II, p. 279, no. 64.16 (illustrated).
Sale room notice
Please note that the medium for this work has been updated to 'oil and charcoal on canvas'.

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Lot Essay

La réunion III is a painting whose given title is as literal as it is enigmatic. In purely formal terms, the work portrays a gathering of Cuban-born artist Lam’s canonical figures; in fact, it shares its name with other examples from his oeuvre which similarly depict groupings of his hybridized characters, including his “cornerstone motif,” the famed femme-cheval (L. Stokes Sims, Wifredo Lam and the International Avant-Garde, 1923-1982, Austin, 2002, p. 115). Echoes of this horse-headed, breasted, and often phallic-chinned personage repeat across the surface of the work, whose assembled figures are schematically delineated in black outline. Overlapping and intermingling, these beings alternate between shadowy, unfinished presences to well-defined forms that emerge and fade against the painting’s undifferentiated background.
In contrast to earlier works including Lam’s much esteemed The Jungle (1943, The Museum of Modern Art, New York), which featured floral, vegetal and other organic shapes reminiscent of the lush landscape of the artist’s native Cuba, La réunion III lacks grounding within any terrestrial locale. Indeed, although a few of the figures are embellished with warm yellow and orange hues, the overall canvas is executed against a brushy background of creamy grey and blue tones. Such an ambiguous and unknown setting evoke a sense of the mysterious and metaphysical, an interpretation in keeping with readings of Lam’s figures as syncretic entities. Depicted in his idiosyncratic style, these forms reflect his first-hand knowledge of Western art historical genres like Cubism and Surrealism with his interest and experience of Afro-diasporic culture, drawn from his own diverse Cuban, African, and Chinese origins. Positioned non-hierarchically across multiple orientations of the canvas—including one figure who seems to walk along the right edge, defying traditional notions of gravity—the painting’s other-worldly atmosphere offers an appropriate setting for a convening of Lam’s spiritually charged figures.
The undefined background of La réunion III is consistent with art critic John Yau’s observation that, beginning in the 1960s, Lam increasingly positioned his figures within shallow, abstract spaces (“From Hollowed Place to Pure Sign,” Wifredo Lam: Catalogue Raisonné of the Painted Work, Lausanne, 1996, vol. II, p. 63). This decade corresponds with Lam’s move to Albissola, an Italian town on the Ligurian coast known for its ceramics tradition that began attracting avant-garde artists in the 1950s. First invited to visit by Asger Jorn (to whom he had first been introduced to during the 1940s by André Breton) in 1954, Lam permanently settled in Albissola in 1961, where he became part of an artist community that included such figures as Roberto Matta, Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni, and Enrico Baj. Indeed, as recently recounted in an essay by Lam’s son Eskil written for the Tate, “it was his spirit of collaboration and friendship” that drew him to live there (“Wifredo Lam: the Albissola Years,” Tate Etc, no. 38, Autumn 2016, n.p.). Painted within this convivial international milieu, La réunion III can perhaps be considered an extension or surrogate for the camaraderie and kinship of Albissola as a gathering space. Significantly, Eskil’s reminiscences of this period in his father’s life also highlight an additional dialogue sited in Albissola that further nuance works like La réunion III. Describing a picture of Lam in the music room of his Italian home, Eskil focuses attention on the artist’s collection of African and Oceanic artworks which surround him within the mirrored space. According to Eskil, Lam “lamented how terrible it was to see these pieces being bought by people who had no clue about where they had come from, and who showed them in a way that stripped them of any context. In the same way that black bodies had a history of being exploited, he saw this as an exploitation of the black soul. He wanted to give his objects some dignity, so he put them all together, in conversation, speaking to each other” (ibid.).

Susanna V. Temkin, PhD.
Curator, El Museo del Barrio

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