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

Untitled (Abstract)

Wifredo Lam (1902-1982)
Untitled (Abstract)
signed and dated 'Wifredo Lam, 1937' (lower left); signed and dated again and inscribed 'W Lam 1937 FAIT A PARIS POUR MOI MEME' (on the reverse)
oil on board
20 ¾ x 26 in. (52.7 x 66 cm.)
Painted in 1937
Private collection, Paris.
Anon. sale, Christie's, New York, 22 May 1986, lot 39.
Andy Williams, Missouri (acquired at the above sale); sale, Christie's, New York, 29 May 2013, lot 8.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Wifredo Lam: Obra sobre paper, exh. cat., Centre Cultural de la Fundació "la Caixa", Barcelona, 1993, p. 90, no. 11 (illustrated in color).
L. Laurin-Lam and E. Lam, Wifredo Lam: Catalogue Raisonné of the Painted Work, 1923-1960, Lausanne, Acatos, 1996, vol. I, p. 239, no. 37.08 (illustrated).
New York, Americas Society and Barcelona, Centre Cultural de la Fundació "la Caixa", Wifredo Lam: A Retrospective of Works on Paper, September 1992-March 1993, no. 8.
Sale room notice
Please note the additional literature and exhibition history for this work.

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Lot Essay

The pioneering Afro-Cuban artist Wifredo Lam set sail from Havana for Spain in 1923 where he would remain for the next fourteen years. His extended sojourn marked the artist's first exposure and experimentation with a spectrum of vanguard possibilities eventually propelling his work into the forefront of modernism by creating a distinct pictorial language firmly entrenched at the crossroads of Europe and the Americas. Indeed Lam's ability to serve as a cultural interlocutor between the European avant-garde and a distinct Afro-Caribbean perspective would expand and renew the possibilities of modernism while simultaneously transforming the relationship between the two continents. Moreover unlike his European counterparts, Lam did not merely appropriate African motifs for their formal or geometric qualities, but rather his unique accomplishment resides in his ability to transmit the context and meaning of his referents in a manner that communicated their ethos and thus transformed and revitalized the language of modernism on a much more profound level. In a revealing quote in which Lam recounts his first encounter with Pablo Picasso, the Spanish artist acknowledges the young artist's unique cultural position:
"At 4 in the afternoon I was in front of the door to his studio…After greeting me Picasso led me to a room where there were African sculptures. I was especially attracted to one—a head of a horse…Picasso moved the furniture and the sculpture seemed to be alive. 'What a beautiful sculpture!' he said…and added: 'You should be proud.' 'Why?' I asked. 'Because this sculpture was made by an African and you have African blood'” (quoted in Wifredo Lam and His Contemporaries, 1938-1952, exh. cat., The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, 1992, p. 19).
Lam's works from the 1930s span a plethora of styles, from realism and abstraction to cubism and surrealism. A sense of excitement and creative abandonment are palatable as Lam freely traversed from one style to another in a seemingly nomadic fashion absorbing the lessons of Matisse, Picasso, Mondrian, and Miró, yet deeply focused on crafting a vocabulary of his own. Executed in 1937 at the brink of the Spanish Civil War and Lam's precipitated departure for Paris in 1938, Untitled (Abstract) demonstrates Lam's outstanding ability to refine and synthesize vanguard ideas and practices into a unique artistic idiom. Interlocking planes, abstract geometric shapes, and highly stylized pictographic forms coexist in a composition that prefigures Lam's subsequent syncretic approach to modernism alongside specific Asian and Afro-Caribbean inspired sources. Here Lam appears to liberate the pictorial space from the constraints of the modernist grid suggesting a more seamless relationship between the physical space and the biomorphic motifs that inhabit that space merging the two in a manner that forecasts his mature work in which space and figures metamorphose into one another suggesting a quintessentially non-Western cosmology rooted in interconnectedness and limitless dimensions.

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