Home » Exhibitions » Exhibition Review : Wifredo Lam at the Tate Modern – 14th September 2016 to 8th January 2017

Exhibition Review : Wifredo Lam at the Tate Modern – 14th September 2016 to 8th January 2017


Tate Modern presents a retrospective of the Cuban modernist painter, Wifredo Lam (1902–1982) which is the first museum exhibition of the artist in London since 1952. The exhibition explores Lam’s artistic career from the 1920s to the 1970s. Included in the exhibition is over 200 paintings, drawings, photographs, prints and ceramics.


Wifredo Lam was born in the town of Sague la Grande, Cuba in 1902. His own background of Chinese, Spanish and African heritage reflected the complex cultural history of Cuba and influenced his artistic career in a variety of ways. Lam travelled extensively, living on both sides of the Atlantic during periods of considerable cultural and political change. The exhibition begins with works produced during Lam’s early years as an artist in Spain following his training in Havana and Madrid. His studies in Spain enabled him to visit the Prado where he was influenced by the works of Velazquez and Goya.


From traditional studies, Lam moved towards works engaging with a number of European avant-garde movements such as surrealism, evident in works such as Composition I 1930. At this time Lam was faced by personal tragedy when his wife and young son died of tuberculosis in 1931. His own tragedy was matched by the tragedy of Spain which descended into Civil War, Lam enlisted into the Republican cause but was forced to leave in 1938. The chaos of the period is caught by his work Untitled (Scene from the Spanish Civil War) 1937.


Lam made his way to Paris where his work was admired by Pablo Picasso who introduced him to a number of other artists. He remained in Paris for two years before he was forced to flee to Marseille where he met surrealist leader Andre Breton. Lam’s works of this period show the influences of Picasso and the surrealists.


Eventually in 1941, Lam moved back to Cuba and immersed himself in the natural landscape and the Santeria religion and its rituals and beliefs. For the next decade, Lam developed his own original style which often combined animal, plant and human forms, using symbols borrowed from Cuban Occultism and Afro-Cuban beliefs, this period is illustrated in the exhibition by The Eternal Present (An Homage to Alejandro García Caturla) 1944, The Wedding 1947, and The Threshold 1950.


After the 1952 Batista coup in Cuba, Lam left once more for Europe where he exhibited frequently alongside the CoBrA artists,  Asger Jorn introduced Lam to Albissola, a town on the Italian coast where he would create works until the end of his life.


In the town’s artist colony, Lam entered a very productive phase experimenting with expressionism and abstract forms. Lam also created a large number of ceramics using symbols derived from his painting and drawing.


This intriguing exhibition will introduce the work of Wifredo Lam to a wider audience and will allow visitors the opportunity to assess the work of the artist that was inspired by the unique mix of culture, politics and religion in Cuba but also by some of the early 20th century artistic movements. His work seems modern even by present day standards and is often reminiscent of Graphic artists that blend different styles and periods. For all the modernity , it is the strange hybrid creatures that look back into the past that dazzle and delight creating a mystical world full of exotic surreal beasts.


The Wifredo Lam exhibition at the Tate Modern will run from the 14th September 2016 to 8th January 2017 and will be accompanied by a number of events.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

For more information or to book tickets, visit the Tate Modern website here

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