Perhaps one of the most accomplished artists of his generation, the Cuban sculptor Agustin Cárdenas was a founding member of the highly influential group known as Los Once (The Eleven) active from 1953-55 and credited with being one of the earliest proponents of abstraction in Cuban art. The Grupo de los Once (comprised of Guido Llinás, Tomás Oliva, René Ávila, José I. Bermúdez, Hugo Consuegra, Viredo Espinosa, Fayad Jamís, Antonio Vidal, Francisco Antigua, José A. Diaz Peláez, and Cárdenas) represented a dramatic shift away from the work of the much lauded previous generation of vanguard artists whose work was characterized for its figurative approach and its marked emphasis on notions of identity and nationality through work that exalted traditional values and cultural types personified by the guajiro or Cuban peasant.
The Grupo de Los Once gravitated towards a non-representational approach that reflected the gamut of formal possibilities from the biomorphic and lyrical to hard edge or geometric abstraction often with a look towards the New York School rather than the Parisian vanguard. Cárdenas's approach in particular was paradigmatic in his embrace of an African-inspired aesthetic that combined aspects of modernism--abstraction and surrealism--with non-Western derived forms and symbols that suggest a specific cultural context without resorting to the more didactic or literal references of the previous generation.
In 1955, Cárdenas received an important scholarship to study in Paris that would inevitably precipitate the dissolution of the group. Nevertheless Paris proved to be a significant chapter in the artist's life and career. Indeed Cárdenas would remain in Paris for much of the remainder of his life and settled in the artistic center of Montparnasse where he met André Breton, who invited him in 1956 to participate in a surrealist group show at Galerie L'Etoile Scellée. The two formed a lasting relationship and in the ensuing years Cárdenas would solidify his style of rounded, undulating, biomorphic forms and figures that are at once abstract and referential. The present work sculpted from alabaster was featured in the artist's first solo exhibition in the United States in 1961 at the Chicago-based Richard Feigen Gallery. Interestingly the accompanying catalogue features an introduction by Cárdenas's old Parisian friend André Breton, in which the surrealist patriarch laments the "growing specialization of work and the invasion of manufactured objects" which has "created a multitude of hands, each good only for a minimum of uses and which have lost, outside of the clans which have thus been established, the slightest mutual necessity to clasp each other. It is this hand-today multiple, flying away in all directions, on guard on all sides-that I like to see in the hand of Agustín Cárdenas, as though the two had been miraculously reconciled.
1)André Breton in exhibition catalogue Cárdenas (Chicago: Richard Feigen Gallery, 1961), 7.