"Surely the most complete book on Cuban modernism to be published in English or Spanish. It will be indispensable to both the scholar and the general reader."--Julio Blanc, art historian
"The most complete and lucid discussion of the vanguardia painters of the 1920s and 1930s available anywhere."--Louis A. Pérez, Jr., University of South Florida
The strong and cohesive artistic avant-garde that emerged in Havana in the twenties was seminal in the evolution of the modern Cuban identity. Born around the turn of the century, the vanguardia painters shared the heady sense of confidence and nationalism that characterized progressive Cuban intellectuals of the time. This book, lavishly illustrated with reproductions of sixty paintings, rediscovers the vanguardia, describing for the first time in English its importance in Cuban history and culture.
By 1927 the nucleus of the vanguardia artists (who showed their work that year in a series of exhibitions in Havana) had rejected the academic conventions of Cuba's national art academy. In their formative years, many had lived in Paris, where they studied and absorbed the tenets of surrealism, cubism, and modernist primitivism. They returned to Cuba committed to artistic innovation and eager to embrace the heritage of their island. They increasingly identified with the humble and exploited sectors of society, portraying the peasant--often depicted with a serious, dignified facial expression--and the countryside as symbols of national identity.
The vanguardia artists achieved international recognition in 1944 with the Modern Cuban Painting show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York; in 1951 they came full circle to the city where they discovered their artistic vision with the Contemporary Cuban Art show in Paris.
For most of this century, support for the Cuban vanguardia artists has been meager. Recently, however, the National Museum of Cuba has actively collected and organized retrospective exhibitions of their work, which is now widely recognized for its historic and aesthetic value. In the United States, the work of the vanguardia is displayed in museums from San Francisco to New York, and major holdings are on display at the Museum of Modern Art. In 1993 the Studio Museum in Harlem featured Wifredo Lam and His Contemporaries as its twenty-fifth anniversary show. Juan A. Marténez is assistant professor of art history at Florida International University. He lectures frequently on Cuban art at museums and conferences throughout the United States and he is the author of numerous articles and catalogue essays on Cuban art.