Constructivist Dialogues in the Cuban Art Vanguard


A brief review by Holland Cotter for The New York Times.

Of the three Cuban artists in this beautiful show, Zilia Sánchez, still active at 90, is the best known in New York, though the familiarity is new. It has come only after two recent solo exhibitions — at Artists Space in 2013 and Lelong in 2014 — which were her first in the city in 30 years. The sight of her monumental shaped paintings, their bulges, protrusions and folds conveying a kind of extraterrestrial eroticism, has been hard to forget.

Examples of such sculptural pictures are in the current show, along with a conventional oil-on-canvas format from 1956. That was the year that another Cuban artist, Loló Soldevilla (1901-71), also featured here, returned to Havana from Paris, taking geometric abstract paintings and collages she’d done there with her. They would have a wide influence in her homeland. Her work in the show is spare, even severe, but it’s easy to imagine a 1958 painting, “Celestial Letter: Nights in the Cosmos,” appealing mightily to Ms. Sánchez.

The show’s third artist is Amelia Peláez (1896-1968), who, starting in the 1930s, helped to shape a post-colonial Cuban avant-garde. Her specialty: still life painting of great beauty and subtle political weight. In these pictures, Caribbean fruits and flowers appeared. They were framed by elements of Spanish colonial architecture but glowed with an unearthly radiance, like sacramental images in stained glass windows.

All three artists share an early history of exhibiting at an important gallery in Havana, the Lyceum. And although you still probably have to go to Cuba to get an in-depth look at Ms. Peláez’s and Ms. Soldevilla’s careers, the Lelong show, organized with the art historian Ingrid Elliott, evokes the early careers of all three artists with an atmospheric display of archival photographs, exhibition brochures and ephemera.

Galerie Lelong

528 West 26th Street, Chelsea

Through June 25

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