Navigation – Plan du site

AccueilNuméros10Dossier thématiqueThe Sculpture of Agustín Cárdenas...

Dossier thématique

The Sculpture of Agustín Cárdenas at the Confluence of Surrealist and Latin American Artistic Currents

La sculpture d’Agustín Cárdenas à la confluence du surréalisme et de l’art de l’Amérique latine
La escultura de Agustín Cárdenas en la confluencia del movimiento surrealista y del arte de América Latina
Susan L. Power

Résumés

L’œuvre du sculpteur cubain Agustín Cárdenas (1927-2001) dépasse les catégories et les concepts qui ont participé à la construction des récits sur l’histoire de l’art au milieu du XXe siècle. Cet article cherche à éclairer la carrière de l’artiste sur cinq décennies dans le contexte de la scène artistique parisienne de l’après-guerre, où il réalisa un ensemble de sculptures singulières et foisonnantes au croisement du surréalisme et des tendances de l’abstraction, et noua d’étroites relations avec des artistes et intellectuels des diasporas afro-caribéens et latinoaméricaines, tels que Wifredo Lam, Roberto Matta et Édouard Glissant, parmi d’autres. Par l’étude approfondie de la réception critique de l’artiste et de sources d’archives inédites, cette investigation enrichit la recherche existante sur le sujet et élargit la portée des perspectives anglo et européocentrées de la production artistique d’Agustín Cárdenas qui ont prédominé jusqu’à tout récemment.

Haut de page

Texte intégral

Introduction

  • 1 «Le sculpteur surréaliste par excellence», Mandiargues 1975, n. p. Unless otherwise stated all tran (...)
  • 2 That said, Cárdenas did sign surrealist tracts, including «Le “troisième degré” de la peinture», Oc (...)
  • 3 «Avez-vous rencontré ici une famille d’artistes qui correspondait à vos bosons inconcients, c’est-à (...)
  • 4 Colle 1994, pp. 76-77.

1In his preface for the exhibition catalogue rdenas: Sculptures Récentes 1973-1975, André Pieyre de Mandiargues, a writer who frequented Parisian surrealist circles, dubbed the Cuban-born and trained expatriate artist Agustín Cárdenas (1927, Matanzas-2001, Havana), «the surrealist sculptor par excellence1». This designation, oft-quoted in publications about the sculptor’s oeuvre, reflects the enthusiasm and support he received from key participants in the postwar surrealist movement in Paris more than the artist’s ongoing involvement in their programmatic activities2. During a televised interview recorded in 1960, when asked «Have you encountered here a cohort of artists who meet your subconscious needs, in other words, who have influenced your work?» Cárdenas replied in his thick Cuban Spanish accent that both the surrealist group and artists associated with various other trends held significance for him3. Decades later, in an interview with Marie-Pierre Colle, Cárdenas recounted how the surrealists had discovered him: «One day they showed one of my sculptures to André Breton, and at that point things started to get more complex. They decided then that my work was surrealist and that it had to be exhibited right away4!» This initiatory anecdote mirrors other stories, in which the surrealists laid claim to artists whose work reflected their affinities and concerns. Perhaps the most infamous example is Frida Kahlo, who openly expressed her ambivalence if not outright discord with André Breton’s labeling of her work as surrealist. In response to the survey «Où en sommes-nous avec le surréalisme ?» (Where do we stand on surrealism?) conducted by his longtime friend and the lifelong surrealist José Pierre in 1975, Cárdenas offered a more nuanced account:

  • 5 «Je ne peux que vous répondre où j’en suis, moi, avec le surréalisme. Quand j’ai commencé à faire d (...)

I can only tell you where I myself stand with regard to surrealism. When I began to make sculpture in Cuba, I didn’t know about the existence of surrealism and I was creating according to my profound nature. Upon arriving in Paris, I experienced the utmost joy at meeting André Breton and being considered a surrealist sculptor. My current approach still seems to me to belong entirely to my authentic self and I think my way of creating remains surrealist. But I have to add, however, that once I knew about the existence of surrealism, I felt perfectly aligned with it5.

2The artist, who was known to be more taciturn than garrulous, thus asserted his affiliation with postwar surrealism while also maintaining his own artistic identity independent from any stylistic labels. Not only did the sculptor’s career predate his knowledge of surrealism, but it also outlived the Parisian-based surrealist movement. Moreover, his oeuvre received accolades within a broader international context6.

  • 7 «La rencontre d’un tel mouvement des formes et d’une telle passion d’existence l’a élu à une de ces (...)
  • 8 Situating his oeuvre within the intersecting networks across these expansive geographies thus sheds (...)

3Emerging in the mid-twentieth century Cuban artistic scene, Cárdenas exemplifies the model of an artist, trained and practicing in a geographical zone peripheral to the dominant artistic hubs of New York and Paris at that time, striving to expand his horizons beyond his insular beginnings while developing an original body of work that celebrated his deep-rooted Afro-Caribbean heritage. The sculptor’s unique position “at the confluence” speaks to the myriad of sources flowing together to constitute the lifeblood of his oeuvre, a metaphor that Martiniquan poet and intellectual Édouard Glissant (1928, Sainte Marie, Martinique—2011, Paris) eloquently develops in one of his essays for an exhibition catalogue of Cárdenas’s work: «The encounter of such a movement of forms and such a passion for existence has elected him to one of these crossings, marked by the invisible, which in the heartland of Guadeloupe is very simply called, by a literal and mysterious expression, a four-paths [crossroads]7». This crossroads that characterizes the interweaving of geographies, histories, and sensibilities that are the very fabric of Cárdenas practice thus accounts for its richness and complexity as well as the vicissitudes of its reception to date, although entrenched art historical paradigms are gradually being reevaluated and reconfigured8.

4From the start Cárdenas forged his own artistic path with little concern for labels or trends, drawing inspiration from the art of his forbears as well as European and American modernist models, while intersecting with broad currents and categories such as surrealism, Latin American and Afro-Caribbean art, American Abstract Expressionism and its European counterpart «Lyrical Abstraction». These loose associations, reflected in the range of exhibitions that showcased his work and the programs of the galleries that promoted it in the first decades of his career in Paris, are art world constructs that the discipline of art history perpetuates to this day.

1. Surrealism and Sculpture

  • 9 For a genealogy of Surrealist sculpture up through the late 1950s, see Ottinger 2013b.
  • 10 Breton 2008, p. 345-846.
  • 11 For artist and poet (and Peggy Guggenheim’s former husband) Laurence Vail’s English translation of (...)
  • 12 Written in conjunction with the exhibition, Breton’s « Crise de l’objet », initially published in C (...)
  • 13 Scholarship on surrealist sculpture per se has therefore unsurprisingly received less attention tha (...)

5The predominately marginal place of sculpture in surrealist artistic practice also sheds light on the reception of Cárdenas’s oeuvre in the context of postwar Paris9. The status of the visual arts within surrealist practice had fostered debate since the beginnings of the movement, an inheritance of dada’s anti-aesthetics and the surrealist political stance. In his ongoing treatise on the visual arts, Surrealism and Painting, André Breton revised and expanded his vision over four decades from 1925 until months before his death in September 196610. The second part of this anthology—titled «Genesis and Perspective of Surrealism» and penned in 1941 during the period of exile in New York, which first appeared as the preface to the inaugural exhibition catalogue for Peggy Guggenheim’s gallery/museum Art of This Century—addresses the subject of modern sculpture, tracing its three-decade history from Brancusi to its renewal in the automatism of Jean Arp, the joyful equilibrium of Alexander Calder, the dialectical play of volume and void in Henry Moore, and Alberto Giacometti’s poetic magic11. This cohort thus forms the core of surrealist sculptural production, which had previously been relegated to the margins in favor of the surrealist object, culminating in the 1936 Exposition surréaliste d’objets (Surrealist exhibition of objects), held at the Charles Ratton gallery that specialized in non-Western art12. Although the compendium mainly focuses on painting, Breton makes reference to and illustrates three-dimensional works in entries devoted to individual artists, such as Marcel Duchamp and Pablo Picasso, in «Fragments, 1933-1961», the third section of his visual arts anthology. And finally, Breton’s preface for Cárdenas’s exhibition at the Cour d’Ingres gallery in 1959 appears in the fourth section «Environs», following the poet’s 1947 essay on Brazilian sculptor Maria Martins that he wrote about the artist’s solo show at the Julien Levy gallery in New York13.

  • 14 On Maria Martins and surrealism, see Geis 2012.
  • 15 See Breton 2008, pp. 732-737 and pp. 738-739.
  • 16 In 2013 and 2015 respectively, museums on both sides of the Atlantic tackled the subject: Surréalis (...)

6By including his essays on Martins and Cárdenas in Surrealism and Painting, Breton clearly deemed their sculptures to be exemplary of surrealist visual art. Yet their status and reception with regard to the canon of surrealist sculpture in particular and visual art more broadly has remained marginal institutionally. Born in 1894, Maria Martins belonged to the same generation as Breton, who only became aware of her work while he was living in exile in New York during the second World War14. Although they both hailed from the Americas, Martins and Cárdenas occupied distant spheres both generationally and geographically. They belonged to different socio-economic classes, and came from dissimilar backgrounds, not to mention their gender. Even within their shared sculptural medium, the techniques they employed primarily were distinct—Martins preferred lost wax casting whereas Cárdenas mainly practiced direct carving—and therefore, their works display few formal affinities. Breton’s appraisal of their work, however, provides a common ground uniting the artists through complementary themes—the fecundity of nature and desire as the wellspring of artistic creation thanks to their proximity to «primitive» cultures in the Americas—echoed in their adjacent placement among the pages of Surrealism and Painting15. Although their inclusion in Breton’s visual arts opus, together with the fact that both Martins and Cardenas participated in the movement’s postwar exhibitions, might seem to guarantee them a place in the so-called canon of surrealist sculpture, the twentieth-century reception of surrealism with its emphasis on the interwar period has contributed in part to their marginalization, or even exclusion, from mainstream narratives16.

2. Surrealist Beginnings

  • 17 Breton associated Arp’s «concretions» with automatism, as José Pierre would do for Cárdenas’s works (...)
  • 18 Between 1946 and 1952, Lam traveled transatlantically between Cuba and Europe, stopping off in New (...)
  • 19 For details of Lam’s presence in Havana during the 1940s, see Sims 2002, pp. 109-138. For his impac (...)
  • 20 Solo shows of Lam’s work in Havana include: «Lam», Lyceum, 1946; «Lam, obras recientes», Parque Cen (...)
  • 21 See Pierre 1971, p. 110.

7As he recounted, Cárdenas met members of the surrealist group after they had “discovered” his work in Paris. But while still in Havana, he would have been familiar with works by artists in the surrealist orbit, such as Arp, Giacometti, Moore, either through reproductions in art publications or on view in gallery and museum spaces17. Wifredo Lam had fled to Havana in 1941 at the onset of World War II along with Breton and other imperiled artists and intellectuals, only resettling in Paris in 195218. As an acclaimed member of the international avant-garde closely allied to the surrealists, Lam thus offered the younger artists a model of artistic freedom19. Both as a student at the Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes de San Alejandro from 1943 to 1949, and later a member of «Los Once», Cárdenas would certainly have had exposure to Lam’s work while in the Cuban capital during the late 1940s and 1950s20. The myriad of sculptural sources, not to mention the variety of techniques Cárdenas deployed during the early years of his career, was on full display at the 1955 exhibition at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana, featuring the artist’s sculptures alongside paintings by Rafael Soriano21.

  • 22 Exhibiting together from 1953 to 1955, the group comprised a fluctuating number of young painters a (...)
  • 23 Pierre 1971, p. 132. Painter and poet Alice Rahon’s sister, Géo (Georgette Dupin) directed L’Etoile (...)

8Landing in Montparnasse, the artistic heart of the French capital, in late December 1955, Cárdenas was introduced to prominent figures in the postwar Parisian art world by his compatriot, the Mexican-born Cuban painter of Lebanese origin Fayad Jamís (1930, Zacatecas, Mexico-1988, Havana), a fellow member of the «Los Once» group in Havana22. These contacts facilitated Cárdenas’s first Parisian show at the À L’Étoile Scellée gallery in May 1956, where he exhibited recent plaster sculptures alongside Jamís’s paintings23. Active in the surrealist movement since the early 1950s, José Pierre (1927, Benesse-Maremne, France-1999, Paris), wrote the brochure text «La Perle noire et le Rubis» for Cárdenas’s gallery debut in Paris and continued to pen many others throughout the lifelong friendship he maintained with the artist (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Agustín Cárdenas Sculptures/Fayad Jamís Peintures, exh. cat./brochure, À L’Étoile Scellée gallery, Paris, May 1956, with essay: «La Perle Noire et le Rubis» by José Pierre.

Fig. 1: Agustín Cárdenas Sculptures/Fayad Jamís Peintures, exh. cat./brochure, À L’Étoile Scellée gallery, Paris, May 1956, with essay: «La Perle Noire et le Rubis» by José Pierre.

Courtesy Cárdenas Estate.

9Pierre’s poetic text, in which the human, animal, and vegetal realms intermingle, evokes the metamorphosis produced through encounter and elides the boundaries that Western culture has built between these categories of the animate and the inanimate:

  • 24 «Pour Cardenas, l’homme est le frère de l’arbre-cierge, son corps est un cactus dément, son regard (...)

For Cárdenas, man is the brother of the candle tree, his body is a crazy cactus, his gaze a beetle, his voice a butterfly, woman’s breasts the flutter of the hummingbird’s wings. In this domain of palpable forms, in which the new seldom appears, Cárdenas abolishes with his hands the the difference between the animate and the inanimate. And the jet stone cries out in the forests of rum…24

  • 25 See Glissant 1990 and 2006.
  • 26 Mosquera 1992, p. 336.

10This merging of the human with other realms in what Glissant calls «l’entour» or surroundings, embodied both formally and materially in Cárdenas’s sculpture, echoes in the Martiniquan’s poetics of Relation, «a modern form of the sacred» that appears most visibly in the Caribbean, and his concept of Tout-Monde (All-World), «the fusion of everything with everything», an all-encompassing utopian space to which imagination provides access25. Cuban critic and art historian Gerardo Mosquera associates «Caribbean culture» with its African presence, «the predominance of features typical of African consciousness» in Latin American visual culture, which «functions from deep within like a backbone», in the work of artists such as Cárdenas26. The surrealist group had certainly been drawn to the artist’s embodiment of the cultural reminiscence and inheritance of his forbears in his sculptures.

  • 27 An impressive presentation of twenty-five sculptures from 1956 to 1959, many of which were carved i (...)
  • 28 Breton 2008, pp. 738-39. «C’est la fée africaine qui fournit/ La mûre, et les résilles dans les coi (...)
  • 29 Maria’s sculptures The Road, the Shadow, Too Long, Too Narrow, and Impossible were featured promine (...)

11Once André Breton had prefaced the brochure for his first Parisian solo show in 1959 at the left-bank gallery La Cour d’Ingres, the sculptor’s surrealist pedigree was cemented27. In the epigraph to his brief text, Breton makes direct reference to Cárdenas’s African heritage in a quote from Arthur Rimbaud’s poem «Jeune ménage» (Young Couple): «It is the African fairy who provides/Mulberries, and hair-nets in corners28». Breton then extols the dexterity—«like a dragonfly»—and the strength of the sculptor’s hand, emphasizing the tactile qualities the hand elicits in its ability to caress an object of desire, whether animal, vegetal, or mineral. The poet’s reference in the last line to «the great flowering totem» springing from the sculptor’s fingers brings the text full circle to the connection Cárdenas maintains to his ancestral culture. Both the haptic and the «primitive», with their ties to desire, had been major themes underpinning their international exhibition Le Surréalisme en 1947, held at the Galerie Maeght in Paris29.

12Furthermore, two of Cárdenas’s early works—an untitled wood sculpture (c.1955) and the bronze Oiseau connu (1956)— enhanced Breton’s private collection, a vast material compendium of the objects amassed over a lifetime which materialize the poet’s vision and legacy30. Showcased among Breton’s surrealist treasure trove—today called « The Wall » and immortalized on public display at the Musée national d’Art moderne/Centre Georges Pompidou—the sculptures enter into an intimate silent dialogue with the myriad of objects while bearing witness on another level to the reciprocal exchange between the poet and the artist, and by extension the network of connections that constituted the constantly shifting surrealist universe31.

13Around the same time, Cárdenas participated in the first of three official international exhibitions of surrealism, which would in fact be the last collective shows the movement staged. A carved wooden sculpture pierced with metal rings titled Jucambe (1950-1959) (Fig. 2) appeared in the «Exposition InteRnatiOnale du Surréalisme» (EROS) held in 1959 at the Galerie Daniel Cordier in Paris32.

Fig. 2: Agustín Cárdenas, Jucambe, 1950-59, wood, paint, metal, 114 x 34 x 30 cm.

Fig. 2: Agustín Cárdenas, Jucambe, 1950-59, wood, paint, metal, 114 x 34 x 30 cm.

Courtesy Agustín Cárdenas Estate.

  • 33 From the black and white reproduction in the catalogue, one of the sculptures can be identified as (...)
  • 34 See Mahon 2005, p. 186.

14The following year, two untitled, undated works in wood, as listed in the exhibition catalogue, were on display in «Surrealist Intrusion in the Enchanters’ Domain» at D’Arcy Galleries in New York in 1960-196133. Another wood sculpture titled Après le feu (After the Fire) featured in «L’Écart absolu», the final international surrealist exhibition hosted at the Parisian Galerie L’Œil in 196534. The official dissolution of the movement in 1969 hardly effaced the constellations of relationships and affinities that had brought an astonishing range of artists together.

3. Chance encounters and surrealist networks

  • 35 For an analysis of these issues in relation to Cárdenas, see McEwen 2015; Malagodi – Lombardi (eds. (...)
  • 36 Held in the Estate of Ted Joans and exhibited recently in « Surrealism Beyond Borders» 1970-1979, 7 (...)
  • 37 The technique, whose name originated with a «blind» group poem the surrealists created in 1925: «le (...)

15The international scope of the surrealist movement and its openness to newcomers hailing from diverse horizons thus offered a cosmopolitan network both rooted in the Parisian context and with myriad ties beyond it, in part due to the Second World War, when many artists and intellectuals under the threat of the Nazi regime were forced into exile in the Americas. Furthermore, the surrealist movement had aligned itself with anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist struggles since its inception35. A rare cadavre exquis titled The Seven Sons of Lautréamont (and His Dutiful Beautiful Daughter), 1970-1976, a tribute to the tutelary surrealist precursor, Uruguayan-born French poet Isidore Ducasse (1809-1887), records the encounter between eight international artists in surrealist circles and attests to the pervasive global networks that the movement engendered36. With contributions by self-proclaimed Black American surrealist Ted Joans, Columbian painter Heriberto Cogollo, Agustín Cárdenas and his compatriots, painters Jorge Camacho and Wifredo Lam, Chilean painter Roberto Matta, Haitian visual artist Hervé Télémaque, and Egyptian-French poet Joyce Mansour, this collective drawing demonstrates the affinities between artists, hailing from the Americas and Africa, who converged in Paris in the 1970s, all of whom were involved in postwar surrealism to varying degrees37. Visually, this drawing has a totemic quality, in part because of its verticality, which is determined by the number of participants, seven being unusual for an exquisite corpse. The imagery, merging animal heads, bones, and human body parts, also suggests the hybrid, composite character of totemic objects, a form present in the works of Lam, Matta, Camacho, and Cárdenas.

16While the exact details of this creative collaboration remain little known, the title of the exquisite corpse clearly and playfully articulates a surrealist lineage with Lautrémont as a founding father—his famous simile « as beautiful as the fortuitous encounter on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella », a surrealist motto lauding objective chance as the basis of convulsive beauty. With its source in random word play, the visual version of the collective game both literally and figuratively embodies the movement’s aesthetic program and celebrates another Lautréamont-inspired surrealist principle «poetry must be made by all, not one». As «sons and dutiful daughter», this trans-generational and transnational group reenacted a hallmark of surrealist practice, thereby participating in a sort of ritual and inscribing their common affiliation with the movement in the wake of its official dissolution in 1969. Representative of surrealism’s expansive networks, this exquisite corpse encapsulates the myriad meetings that constituted surrealism over time, spanning four decades from the late 1930s to the mid-1970s, and across continents, from Africa and the Americas to converge in Paris. Within this configuration, the Latin-American artists—Cárdenas, Matta, Lam, Camacho, and to a lesser extent Cogollo, who was from the next generation—came together in Parisian events that brought together artists from the hispanophone Americas.

17Mapping these movements, the ebb and flow of individuals, objects, cultures, and artistic traditions resonates in the spiraling of «Poema Circulatorio (Para la desorientación general)», by Nobel Prize-winning Mexican poet Octavio Paz, who crossed paths with Cárdenas and many others in surrealist circles. Printed on the wall at the entrance to the exhibition «El Arte del Surrealismo», held at the Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City in 1973, the poem gave visual and textual form to the notion of an endless unfurling motion operative in surrealism:

  • 38 «…el surrealismo| NO ESTÁ AQUÍ| allá afuera| al aire libre| al teatro de los ojos libres| cuando lo (...)

18… surrealism| IS NOT HERE| out there| outdoor| to the theater of the free eyes| when you close them| you open them| there is no inside or outside| in the forest of prohibitions| the wonderful| sings| catch it| it is within reach of your hand| it is the time when man| is| the accomplice of the ray|Crystallization| appearance of desire| desire for appearance| not here not there but between| here/there.38.

  • 39 Paz dedicated the poem «Piedra Nativa» to Cárdenas «who creates worlds out of light and stone»; his (...)

19Paz captures the elusive ways surrealism has spread and continues to do so, furtively, subversively, freely, beyond the spatial and temporal limits that the discipline of art history tends to assign to an artist, a movement, a style, a period. It is this space, this convergence, between the here and the there, the then and the now, that is intrinsic to Cárdenas’s work as well39.

4. Beyond Surrealism

  • 40 Cárdenas was shown alongside his compatriots the painters Jorge Camacho, Joaquín Ferrer and Gina Pe (...)
  • 41 French art critic Pierre Restany, who authored Lyrisme et abstraction, enthusiastically praised the (...)

20The Galerie du Dragon was a gathering place for writers, poets, and artists across generations and affiliations, promoting surrealism as well as Latin American art. Founded in 1955, the gallery hosted two one-person exhibitions of Cárdenas in 1961 and 1965, and featured his work in «Sept artistes latino-américains» in 197140. A regular contributor to the gallery’s publications, Édouard Glissant authored the text «Le Monde légendaire de Cárdenas» for the first exhibition in 196141.

21In this text, Glissant elaborates on the rhythmic movement both within each sculpture—the outward surging totems (centrifugal) in contrast to the inward folding marbles (centripetal)—and across his entire oeuvre, whereby all movement occurs in tandem with a “ventilation” of the material:

  • 42 «Observons dès maintenant que l’élan d’une part (les totems), le repli et la concentration d’autre (...)

Let me point out at once that the upward thrust on one hand (the totems), the withdrawal and concentration on the other (the marbles), never deviate from a ventilation of the material: not only a ventilation of the material: not only because there are, of course, openings in the sculpted volume, but also because it is given over to the spiral, to curving in upon itself, to the turning motion which links totems and marbles, the surging busts and the great burnt trees, the butterflies, so astonishingly light in their mass and the head swathed in their stone sheet. The world we have here participates in the drawing out motion which is perhaps, in sculpture, the art of conjecture. And this world develops simultaneously in the rounded forms which, meaningfully marked, heightened by ridges, thorns, hard or elegant festoons, bear witness here to growth (fecund time) and enrichment. Hence one can say that, always Cardenas’ work continues42.

  • 43 Krauss 1977, p. 140.
  • 44 Glissant 1979a. Excerpts of this essay have been widely reprinted in subsequent exhibition catalogu (...)
  • 45 During his adolescence in Fort-de-France, Glissant’s early literary inclinations and inspirations i (...)
  • 46 Glissant 1979b, original edition, illustrated by Agustín Cárdenas with 5 original eaux-fortes, incl (...)
  • 47 «Dessin de Cárdenas sur le dossier du manuscrit du Discours antillais», Fonds Edouard Glissant, Bib (...)

22Glissant’s insistence on both the organic and the temporal resonates with interwar discourse on biomorphism and vitalism—in the work of Arp, for instance, a major source of inspiration for the Cuban artist—and «a kind of unfolding through time which we associate with the phenomenon of growth» that Rosalind Krauss has identified43. The Martiniquan poet renewed his tribute to the sculptor in «Sept paysages pour les sculptures de Cárdenas», a catalog essay for the artists one-man exhibition at the Parisian gallery Le Point Cardinal in 197944. Though he never formally belonged to the surrealist group, Glissant frequented Bretons studio and associated with writers and artists, including Cárdenas and Lam among others, who participated in surrealist collective activities45. The collaboration between Cárdenas and Glissant was reciprocal: images of works on paper by the sculptor complemented Glissants writings. Published by Éditions du Dragon in 1979, a special edition of Glissants poem Boises: Histoire naturelle d’une aridité with four original etchings by Cárdenas was issued in sixty numbered copies, signed by the author and artist (Fig. 3)46. His drawings also graced the covers of the first manuscript of Glissants Discours antillais and the subsequent paperback edition (Éditions du Seuil, 1981)47.

Fig. 3: Édouard Glissant and Agustín Cárdenas, Boises. Histoire naturelle d’une aridité. Eaux-fortes de Cárdenas, Galerie du Dragon, Paris, 1979.

Fig. 3: Édouard Glissant and Agustín Cárdenas, Boises. Histoire naturelle d’une aridité. Eaux-fortes de Cárdenas, Galerie du Dragon, Paris, 1979.

Courtesy Cárdenas Estate.

  • 48 See Girard 1990.
  • 49 See Waldberg 1968.
  • 50 See Giraudo 2021, pp. 39-47.

23Characteristic of the «totemic» body of work exhibited in the late international exhibitions of surrealism, the carved wood sculptures entertain obvious ties to non-Western models, which were also an ubiquitous source of inspiration and innovation in defining works of modernist sculpture by artists whom Cárdenas revered48. The genealogy of this trope extends into the postwar period and across the Americas, both in painting and sculpture. In the 1950s David Smith created a series of welded «personages» titled «Tanktotem» from industrial machine parts; Louise Bourgeois sculpted filiform polychrome wood figures; Isamu Noguchi fashioned totemic forms out of wood and stone, as well as columns of light from wire and paper for his Akari lamps; Alicia Penalba cast her vertical bronze «love totems» from modeled clay. In reference to Sigmund Freud’s Totem and Taboo, a touchstone for surrealist thought—on display most notably in their 1947 Exposition internationale du surréalisme—the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris featured Wifredo Lam, Roberto Matta, and Alicia Penalba in the 1968 exhibition Totems et tabous49. Of the three Latin American expatriate artists, only Penalba never participated in the activities of the surrealist movement, although critics and art historians have drawn parallels between her work and surrealism50.

  • 51 Anèle (1960-1973) and Sanedrac (1957-1974), two carved wood « totems », are anagrams of Elena, the (...)
  • 52 These themes are more fully developed in my essay for the exhibition catalogue Cárdenas: Mon ombre (...)

24Many of Cárdenas’s early «totems» can be ascribed to abstract portraiture, as their titles often attest51. One particularly striking example, Mon Ombre Après Minuit (My Shadow After Midnight) [1963], signals the artist’s ancestral ties to West Africa as well as the surrealist tropes of the double and the nocturnal realm of the subconscious52 (Fig. 4). An imposing figure over eight feet tall, the monumental sculpture is informed by the Dogon carvings that Cárdenas first encountered through reproductions in Havana and later in Parisian collections. Frontal and flat, with black and white contrasts heightening its graphic quality, the work shares these formal qualities with a body of sculptures referencing doors and windows, as both their planar aspect and titles indicate: Porte de l’histoire (1960-61), La Petite porte (1961), Après la fenêtre (1964), among others.

Fig. 4: Agustín Cárdenas standing with Mon ombre après minuit (My Shadow After Midnight) outside his Meudon studio, wood, paint, 243 x 77 x 10 cm.

Fig. 4: Agustín Cárdenas standing with Mon ombre après minuit (My Shadow After Midnight) outside his Meudon studio, wood, paint, 243 x 77 x 10 cm.

Photograph © Pierre Golendorf. Courtesy Cárdenas Estate.

25Referring to Cárdenas’ oeuvre in general, and the extraordinary dexterity with which he plies both material and space, Glissant has observed:

  • 53 «Les ouvertures d’espace, par quoi la sculpture s’habite, nous passons à travers elle, et nous ne t (...)

The openings of space, through which the sculpture is inhabited, we go through and not just turn around it. […] …the door leads us irresistibly to the famous Door of the Sun that stands on the Plateaus of the Andes. We first see that what is interwoven inside the Door is not an obstacle. It is what allows us to enter, to go through. This is where we find the guiding principle of Cárdenas sculpture. We go through spaces, we do not contemplate them53.

  • 54 For a thought-provoking article about the question of the new sacred in art with respect to both Gl (...)
  • 55 Cárdenas estate private archives.

26Inti Punku, «the door of the sun» in Quechua, was the gateway to the sacred Inca city of Machu Picchu, the portal only a few select people were able to enter, the threshold between the earth and the sun, the terrestrial and the celestial. Beyond the obvious thematic link to the architectural theme in Cárdenas, the significance of this reference cannot be overstated. Glissant relates the sculptor’s oeuvre to the traditions of the ancient Americas and the stone structures of those indigenous cultures, whose sacred spaces were immutably rooted in the natural environment54. These references are hardly fortuitous since Cárdenas’s eclectic interests, which ran the gamut from poetry and music to the visual arts of world cultures, nourished his sculptural output, as documented in the array of publications, including books on pre-Columbian civilizations, in his personal library55.

27In the 1960s and 1970s, Cárdenas scaled up the forms of his totemic body of work to carve massive works from local varieties of stone while participating in international sculpture symposiums in Austria, Israel, Japan and Canada, and receiving public commissions to create monumental projects in Seoul, South Korea and France. One particularly salient example, Porte d’eau (1973), a towering totemic couple forged from iroko wood, a dense weather-resistant African teak, stands on either side of the road at the entrance to the old route du Lac Vert leading through the forested landscape adjacent to Mont Blanc56. Characteristic of the aforementioned portals leading from one realm to another—whether the terrestrial and the celestial, the corporeal and the mental, the interior and the exterior, the worldly and the spiritual, the ancient and the contemporary—through its materials, forms, and setting, the sculptural pair blends in with its surroundings and silently suggests the genealogical ties that connect it to other lands and eras. A decade earlier, Cárdenas had carved from the local limestone another colossal figure rising up from the lunar landscape overlooking the Ramon Crator in the Negev Desert of Israel: The Divinity of the Moon (1962), appropriately titled after the female deity presiding over the desert sculpture park57. The stark contrasts in the natural materials, forms, and settings informing these two site-specific projects demonstrate how Cárdenas integrated his process and visual vocabulary into distinctive contexts, tethering his contemporary sculptural practice to vast expanses of space and geological time.

  • 58 See Pierre 1973, n. p.
  • 59 For more on Abakuá, see Miller 2000, 43, 1, pp. 161-188. The author mentions that Wifredo Lam incor (...)
  • 60 Miller 2000, 43, 1, p. 169.

28Although the deeply spiritual dimension of his works finds its ultimate expression in these monumental projects, a «magical-circumstantial» aspect resonates throughout his oeuvre in its evocation of the natural world and esoteric practices: El Quarto Famba (1973), for instance, whose title refers to the enclosed space where the initiation rites of the earliest Afro-Cuban secret society Abakuá take place58. Although Cárdenas never belonged to the exclusively male, anti-Spanish colonialist secret society whose Cuban beginnings date to the early nineteenth century, by the mid-twentieth Abakuá had filtered through the island’s popular culture, especially musical traditions but also the visual arts59. In a 1947 canvas titled L’Atelier [Cuarto Fambá], Wifredo Lam imagines the artist’s studio as the Abakuá initiation room, a revealing analogy that reinforces the mysterious, enchanted territory common to both60.

  • 61 See various related documents including the catalog in the exhibition file: MAM-ARCH-EXPO-MAM1962-L (...)
  • 62 French art critic and writer Charles Estienne (Brest, France,1908 – Paris, 1966), was an active mem (...)

29While Cárdenas was presenting his work in surrealist exhibitions and affiliated galleries, he also participated in annual salons and group shows. In 1962, he was a member of the organizing committee, as were Lam and Matta among others, for «L’art latino-américain à Paris», held at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris from August 2 to October 4, 1962. Showcasing the recent production of sculptures, paintings, and works on paper by over a hundred and thirty artists from diverse Latin American countries residing in Paris, the exhibition included Cárdenas’ 1962 sculpture in ebony Colonne du feu 2 as well as two watercolors61. An even broader context in which Cárdenas exhibited his sculpture was the postwar School of Paris or «Nouvelle École de Paris», as it was coined by Charles Estienne62. In group shows such as «Cinq jeunes sculpteurs de l’École de Paris», held at the Galerie Saint Agustin in 1959 or the annual salons in Paris—«Salon de la jeune sculpture», from 1956-1971, «Réalités Nouvelles», from 1957 to 1965, or «Salon de Mai», from 1960 to 1971—Cárdenas benefited from a regular platform for showing his artwork throughout the 1960s.

  • 63 The accompanying catalogue in the form of a magazine allowed for a more informal spontaneous format (...)
  • 64 The colorful collective mural was subsequently transported to Paris and displayed at the 24th Salon (...)

30The special twenty-third edition of the Salon de Mai, organized under the artistic direction of Lam and held in Havana in 1967, was the occasion for Cárdenas to return to his homeland for the first time in over a decade63. At the end of June that year, Lam arrived in Havana with the first contingent of eighteen international artists and intellectuals including Cárdenas. Another group followed a month later, arriving just in time to participate in the collective painting event Lam had organized on the evening of July 17. Measuring five by ten meters, the monumental oil on canvas titled Cuba Colectiva (Fig. 5) featured an immense spiral motif comprising separate sections, each painted by a different artist, with Lam’s contribution at the center. Around one hundred art world insiders, both from Cuba and from abroad, participated in the festive «happening», performed before a jubilant crowd of onlookers64. The Salón de Mayo opened to much fanfare in Havana at the Pabellón Cuba on July 30, 1967, with over two hundred works by an international roster of about a hundred and fifty artists, many of whom had ties to the broader surrealist orbit.

Fig. 5: Cuba Colectiva, work in progress, Pabellón de Cuba, Havana, July 17, 1967.

Fig. 5: Cuba Colectiva, work in progress, Pabellón de Cuba, Havana, July 17, 1967.

Photograph courtesy of La Jarabilla.

  • 65 «L’opinion mettra peut-être du temps à se convaincre que c’est là un des plus grands sculpteurs con (...)

31Ubiquitous in natural forms such as the unlimited whorls of fingerprints, the structures of seashells, climactic phenomena such as tornados or whirlwinds, or the planets in the cosmos, spirals—with their infinite motion both inward and outward—characterize the incessant movement and dynamism of the twisting intertwining forms that animate Cárdenas’s sculptures and resonate in the poetry of Paz, as we have seen. But the spiral is also akin to a target whose center marks a spot, like the crossroads along a path, the meeting point or «quatre-chemins», where worlds and currents converge—the space of the Caribbean as the source of Glissant’s thought is embodied in Cárdenas’s oeuvre. Postwar Paris was also a hub for international artists and artistic currents, as was surrealism a locus of collective activity. Drawing upon his African heritage, reappropriating the Western modernist “primitivist” sculptural idioms at mid-century, and probing the fathomless depths of a common humanity, the sculptor’s œuvre springs from this confluence, heralding our boundless contemporary world. Unfaltering in his celebration of Cárdenas, Édouard Glissant, who recognized the shared source of their poetic domains, offered a prescient appraisal of the pertinence and timeliness of the Cuban’s oeuvre, which only continues to grow to this day: «It might take time for opinion to be convinced that there we have one of the greatest contemporary sculptors65».

Haut de page

Bibliographie

Alessandro, Stephanie d’ – Gale, Matthew (eds.), 2021, Surrealism Beyond Borders, New Haven, Yale University Press.

Breton, André, 2008, «Agustín Cárdenas», Le Surréalisme et la peinture, Œuvres complètes, Étienne-Alain Hubert (dir.), Paris, Éditions Gallimard, t. IV.

Cárdenas, Agustín, n. d., « Dessin de Cárdenas sur le dossier du manuscrit du Discours antillais », Fonds Édouard Glissant, Bibliothèque nationale de France, département des manuscrits, NAF 28 894 (28).

Cater, Suzy, 2016, «A Schizophrenia That Wasn’t One: Édouard Glissant and Poetry, Painting and Politics in 1950s Paris», French Forum, 41, 3, pp. 257-272.

Colle, Marie-Pierre, 1994, Latin American Artists in Their Studios, New York, Vendome Press.

Diawara, Manthia – Geis, Terri, 2020, «The New Sacred Since André Breton and Édouard Glissant», Arts & Cultures, 21, Geneva, Barbier Mueller Museum, pp. 68-80.

Flahutez, Fabrice, 2007, Nouveau monde et nouveau mythe : Mutations du surréalisme, de l’exil américain à « l’Écart absolu » (1941-1965), Dijon, Les Presses du réel.

Fletcher, Valerie, 2015, Marvelous Objects: Surrealist Sculpture from Paris to New York, Washington D.C. and Munich, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and Delmonico Books/Prestel.

Foucault, Anne, 2022, Histoire du surréalisme ignoré : Du déshonneur des poètes au « surréalisme éternel », Paris, Éditions Hermann.

Foucault, Anne, 2023, « Décentrer la carte, décentrer l’homme. Espaces géographiques et “mondiations” », Les Cahiers du Musée national d’art moderne, 162, pp. 70-89.

Galerie du Dragon, 1971, Sept artistes latino-américains, Paris, Galerie du Dragon.

Galerie La Cour d’Ingres, 1959, Cárdenas : Sculpture, Dessins, Paris, Galerie La Cour d’Ingres.

Galerie Le Point Cardinal, 1973, Cárdenas, Sculptures récentes, 1972-73, Paris, Le Point Cardinal.

Geis, Terri, 2012, «“My Goddesses and My Monsters”: Maria Martins and Surrealism in the 1940s», Surrealism in Latin America: Vivísimo Muerto, Dawn Ades (ed.), Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute.

Girard, Xavier, 1990, «La sculpture sur bois d’Agustín Cárdenas», Cárdenas : Bois, Paris, JGM Galerie.

Giraudo, Victoria, 2021, Alicia Penalba, Paris après-guerre, Paris and Lyon, Fondation Giacometti & Fages éditions.

Glissant, Édouard, 1961, «Le Monde légendaire de Cárdenas», Cárdenas, Paris, Galerie du Dragon.

Glissant, Édouard, 1979a, «Sept paysages pour les sculptures de Cárdenas», rdenas : Marbres et bronzes, 1975-1979, Paris, Le Point Cardinal.

Glissant, Édouard, 1979b, Boises. Histoire naturelle dune aridité, Paris, Galerie du Dragon.

Glissant, Édouard, 1990, Poétique de la relation. Poétique III, Paris, Éditions Gallimard.

Glissant, Édouard, 2006. Une Nouvelle Région du Monde. Esthétique I, Paris, Éditions Gallimard.

Glissant, Édouard, «Car c’est toujours de paysage qu’il s’agit», unpublished draft of text on Cárdenas, Fonds Glissant, Bibliothèque nationale de France, département des manuscrits, NAF 28 894 (73) 5.

Glissant, Édouard, «Pays rêvé, pays réel», unpublished draft of text on Cárdenas, Fonds Glissant, Bibliothèque nationale de France, département des manuscrits, NAF 28 894 (72) 5.

Guggenheim, Peggy (ed.), 1942, Art of This Century: Objects, Drawings, Photographs, Paintings, Sculpture, Collages, 1910 to 1942, New York, Art of This Century.

Howard, Claire, 2021, «The Enchanters’ Domain: Oceania, the Northwest Coast, and New York», Surrealism Beyond Borders, Stephanie d’Alessandro & Matthew Gale (eds.), New Haven, Yale University Press, pp. 180-183.

Kalter, Marion, 2017, All About Ted Joans, Paris, Book Machine.

Joans, Ted, 1982, Sure, Really I Is, Harpford, Sidmouth, Devon, TRANSFORMAcTION.

Krauss, Rosalind, 1977, Passages in Modern Sculpture, Cambridge, MIT Press.

Mahon, Alyce, 2005, Surrealism and the Politics of Eros, 1938-68, New York, Thames & Hudson.

Malagodi, Elena – Lombardi, Eleonora (eds.), 2015, Carrara, Cárdenas e la Negritudine, Carrara, Centro Arti Plastichi/Galleria Duomo.

Mandiargues, André Pieyre de, 1975, «Remercions Cárdenas», rdenas : Sculptures Récentes, 1973-1975, Paris, Le Point Cardinal.

McEwen, Abigail, 2015, «Traveling Blackness», Agustín Cárdenas, London, Aktis Gallery.

McEwen, Abigail, 2016, Revolutionary Horizons: Art and Polemics in 1950s Cuba, New Haven, Yale University Press.

Miller, Ivor, 2000, «A Secret Society Goes Public: The Relationship Between Abakuá and Popular Cuban Culture», African Studies Review, 43, 1, pp. 161-188.

Missir, Marie-Laure, 2005, Joyce Mansour, une étrange demoiselle, Paris, Éditions Jean-Michel Place.

Mosquera, Gerardo, 1992, «Africa in the Art of Latin America», Art Journal, 51, 4, pp. 30-38.

Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, «L’art latino-américain à Paris», 1962, exhibition file, MAM-ARCH-EXPO-MAM1962-LA, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Ottinger, Didier (ed.), 2013a, Dictionnaire de l’objet surréaliste, Paris, Éditions Gallimard.

Ottinger, Didier, 2013b, La sculpture au défi : surréalisme et matérialisme, Paris, L’Échoppe.

Paz, Octavio, 1995, « Poema circulatorio (para la desorientación general) », Obras completas, Mexico, Fondo de Cultura Económica, 6 t.

Philbrick, Jane (ed.), 1993, The Return of the Cadavre Exquis, New York, The Drawing Center.

Pierre, José, 1956, «La Perle Noire et le Rubis», Agustín Cárdenas Sculptures/Fayad Jamís Peintures, Paris, À l’Étoile Scellée.

Pierre, José, 1971, La Sculpture de Cárdenas, Brussels, La Connaissance.

Pierre, José, 1973, «El Quarto Famba», Cárdenas, sculptures récentes, 1972-1973, Paris, Le Point Cardinal.

Pierre, José, 1975, «Enquête : Où en sommes-nous avec le Surréalisme? (1975)», Boîte 320PIR/3, Fonds José Pierre, Institut Mémoires de l’Édition Contemporaine (IMEC), Abbaye d’Ardenne, Saint-Germain-la-Blanche-Herbe.

Power, Susan, 2012, « Les expositions surréalistes en Amérique du Nord : Terrain d’expérimentation, de réception et de diffusion (1940-1960) », Ph.D. dissertation, université de Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne.

Power, Susan, 2020a, « Surrealist Intrusion on Madison Avenue, 1960 », Networking Surrealism in the USA: Agents, Artists, and the Market, Julia Drost, Fabrice Flahutez, Anne Helmreich & Martin Schieder (eds.), Paris, German Center for Art History, pp. 429-448.

Power, Susan, 2020b, «Rendering the Shadows of the Unconscious: Agustín Cárdenas’s Works on Paper», Cárdenas: Mon ombre après minuit, Paris, Maison de l’Amérique latine, pp. 11-21.

Power, Susan, 2020c, «Agustín Cárdenas: Sculpting the “Memory of the Future”», Journal of Surrealism and the Americas, 11, 2, pp. 98-119.

Restany, Pierre, 1960, Lyrisme et abstraction, Milan, Apollinaire.

Restany, Pierre, 1961, «Cárdenas», Cimaise, 8, 3, p. 94.

Richard Feigen Gallery, 1961, Cárdenas, Chicago, Richard Feigen Gallery.

Richardson, Michael, 2005, «Surrealism Faced with Cultural Difference», Cosmopolitan Modernisms, Kobena Mercer (ed.), London, Institute of International Visual Arts & MIT Press.

Sims, Lowery Stokes, 2002, Wifredo Lam and the International Avant-Garde, 1923-1982, Austin, University of Texas Press.

South Central Review special issue «Dada, Surrealism, and Colonialism», 32, 1.

Vega Dopico, Elsa, 2003, Uno, dos, tres… once: Exposición homenaje al cincuenta aniversario de la fundación del grupo Los Once, Havana, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Collection de Arte Cubano.

Wald Lasowski, Aliocha, 2023, Édouard Glissant. Artisan du Tout-monde, Paris, Michelin.

Waldberg, Patrick, 1968, Totems et tabous : Lam, Matta, Penalba, Paris, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.

Haut de page

Notes

1 «Le sculpteur surréaliste par excellence», Mandiargues 1975, n. p. Unless otherwise stated all translations are the author’s own.

2 That said, Cárdenas did sign surrealist tracts, including «Le “troisième degré” de la peinture», October 6, 1965, after the exhibition «Vivre et laisser mourir ou la fin tragique de Marcel Duchamp» (Gilles Aillaud, Eduardo Arroyo, Antonio Recalcati), galerie Creuse, Paris, September 1965; and «Pour Cuba» on November 14, 1967, published in the surrealist periodical L’Archibras, no. 3, (March 1968). On the postwar activities of the Parisian surrealist movement, see Foucault 2022.

3 «Avez-vous rencontré ici une famille d’artistes qui correspondait à vos bosons inconcients, c’est-à-dire, qui ont influencé votre travail?», «Une enquête», Radiodiffusion Télévision Française, September 23, 1960, video, 11’57”: art critic Pierre Restany interviewed by journalist Jacques Mousseau about whether Paris was still the artistic capital it had been fifty years earlier. Cárdenas was among the international artists working in an abstract mode—including printmaker Yozo Hamaguchi, painters Hisao Domoto and Paul Jenkins, sculptors Alicia Penalba and James Metcalf—interviewed in their Parisian studios by the journalist. https://www.ina.fr/ina-eclaire-actu/video/cpf08009178/une-enquete, consulted on March 3, 2022.

4 Colle 1994, pp. 76-77.

5 «Je ne peux que vous répondre où j’en suis, moi, avec le surréalisme. Quand j’ai commencé à faire de la sculpture à Cuba, je ne connaissais pas l’existence du surréalisme et je créais selon ma nature profonde. En arrivant à Paris, j’ai eu la grande joie de rencontrer André Breton et de pouvoir être considéré comme un sculpteur surréaliste. Ma démarche actuelle me semble appartenir toujours à mon authenticité totale et je pense que mon processus de création reste surréaliste. Mais je dois ajouter cependant que, dès que j’ai connu l’existence du surréalisme, je me suis senti en parfait accord avec sa ligne esthétique», José Pierre, « Enquête : Où en sommes-nous avec le Surréalisme? (1975) », Boîte 320PIR/3, Fonds José Pierre, Institut Mémoires de l’Edition Contemporaine (IMEC), Abbaye d’Ardenne, Saint-Germain-la-Blanche-Herbe.

6 For an overview of Cárdenas career and reception, see Power, 2020c, pp. 98-119, https://jsa-asu.org/index.php/JSA/article/view/16/29, consulted on March 3, 2023.

7 «La rencontre d’un tel mouvement des formes et d’une telle passion d’existence l’a élu à une de ces croisées, marquées de l’invisible, que dans les profonds de Guadeloupe on appelle tout simplement, d’une expression littérale et mystérieuse, un quatre-chemins». Glissant 1979.

8 Situating his oeuvre within the intersecting networks across these expansive geographies thus sheds light on these issues. Cárdenas work has been the subject of numerous one-person exhibitions in commercial galleries and alternative art venues as well as collective exhibitions featuring surrealist visual production, Latin American artists or more recently artists of the African diaspora, such as Afro Modern: Journeys Through the Black Atlantic, held at the Tate Liverpool, January 29-April 25, 2010.

9 For a genealogy of Surrealist sculpture up through the late 1950s, see Ottinger 2013b.

10 Breton 2008, p. 345-846.

11 For artist and poet (and Peggy Guggenheim’s former husband) Laurence Vail’s English translation of Breton’s text, see Guggenheim 1942.

12 Written in conjunction with the exhibition, Breton’s « Crise de l’objet », initially published in Cahiers d’art, along with his brief text for the 1936 exhibition brochure, integrated the fourth section « Alentours » of Surrealism and Painting. See Breton 2008, pp. 680-692.

13 Scholarship on surrealist sculpture per se has therefore unsurprisingly received less attention than other forms of visual expression inscribed within the movement. American art historian Rosalind Krauss devoted a lengthy chapter to surrealism in her analysis of the temporal dimension of modern sculpture, circumscribing her purview to the established canon of surrealist sculptural production in the 1930s and 1940s. There she established a sort of typology of sculptural temporality, from the real or experienced time of Constantin Brancusi’s works—«the contingency of shape as a function of experience»—and Marcel Duchamp’s ready-mades—«lived time through which one encounters the riddle». Giacometti’s surrealist sculptures, such as Suspended Ball, participate in real time through movement. In a category of its own, the surrealist object belonged to the temporality of fantasy or psychological time, associated with sexuality and/or pain. Although forming part of the surrealist sculptural canon, Arp moved away from his surrealist wooden relief assemblages to «concretions» based on organic development, which aligned him with groups promoting abstraction in the 1930s. See Krauss 1977, pp. 106-146.

14 On Maria Martins and surrealism, see Geis 2012.

15 See Breton 2008, pp. 732-737 and pp. 738-739.

16 In 2013 and 2015 respectively, museums on both sides of the Atlantic tackled the subject: Surréalisme et l’objet, curated by Didier Ottinger at the Centre Pompidou, and Marvelous Objects: Surrealist Sculpture from Paris to New York, organized by former Hirshhorn Museum senior curator Valerie Fletcher. Both exhibitions expanded the temporal and geographical scope of three-dimensional surrealist production, the former including surrealism’s legacy in contemporary art, and the latter developing a more New York-centric postwar perspective.
No mention is made of Cárdenas in either show and Martins participation is relegated to a mere entry without a reproduction of her sculpture in the exhibition catalogue for the former. On the other hand, American sculptor David Smith features prominently in both exhibitions despite never having direct ties with the surrealist movement. See Ottinger 2013a and Fletcher 2015.

17 Breton associated Arp’s «concretions» with automatism, as José Pierre would do for Cárdenas’s works in plaster. See Breton 2008, pp. 430-432, 436; and Pierre 1971, p. 10.

18 Between 1946 and 1952, Lam traveled transatlantically between Cuba and Europe, stopping off in New York, and exhibiting his work internationally in numerous solo and group shows on the American and European continents. See Sims 2002, p. 113.

19 For details of Lam’s presence in Havana during the 1940s, see Sims 2002, pp. 109-138. For his impact on the 1950s Cuban art scene, see McEwen 2016, pp. 47-48 and 111-112; and the exhibition catalog devoted to «Los Once»: Vega Dopico 2003, p. 1.

20 Solo shows of Lam’s work in Havana include: «Lam», Lyceum, 1946; «Lam, obras recientes», Parque Central, 1950; «Lam y nuestro tiempo, Paris 1938-1951 La Habana», Galería Sociedad Nuestro Tiempo, 1951; «Wifredo Lam», Universidad de la Habana, Pabellón de Ciencias Sociales, 1955. The painter also participated in group shows in Havana in 1943, 1944, 1945, and 1946.

21 See Pierre 1971, p. 110.

22 Exhibiting together from 1953 to 1955, the group comprised a fluctuating number of young painters and sculptors who were united in advocating for individual artistic freedom rather than any programmatic aims and demonstrated their opposition to the oppressive Fulgencio Bautista regime by refusing to participate in state-sponsored arts initiatives. In accepting a government grant to travel abroad, Cárdenas was at odds with that stance. For a thorough account of «Los Once», see chapters 2-4 in McEwen 2016; and Vega Dopico 2003.

23 Pierre 1971, p. 132. Painter and poet Alice Rahon’s sister, Géo (Georgette Dupin) directed L’Etoile Scellée and La Cour d’Ingres galleries, both of which were affiliated with the surrealists and would host numerous exhibitions of artists from the movement’s ranks. Alice Rahon, who was married to Austrian painter Wolfgang Paalen from 1934-1947, moved to Mexico with him in 1939 and remained there until the end of her life. Both were very close to Surrealist circles in Mexico City and Paris, where Paalen would return in 1951 until his death in 1959.

24 «Pour Cardenas, l’homme est le frère de l’arbre-cierge, son corps est un cactus dément, son regard un scarabée, sa voix un papillon, les seins de la femme le battement d’ailes du colibri. Dans ce domaine des formes palpables où le nouveau si rarement se propose, Cardenas abolit en ses mains la différence entre l’animé et l’inanimé. Et le jais s’égosille dans les forêts de rhum…», Pierre 1956, n. p.

25 See Glissant 1990 and 2006.

26 Mosquera 1992, p. 336.

27 An impressive presentation of twenty-five sculptures from 1956 to 1959, many of which were carved in wood or cast in bronze, along with a few granite or plaster pieces as well as drawings. Galerie La Cour d’Ingres 1959, n. p.

28 Breton 2008, pp. 738-39. «C’est la fée africaine qui fournit/ La mûre, et les résilles dans les coins», translated by American poet John Ashbery in Richard Feigen Gallery 1961.

29 Maria’s sculptures The Road, the Shadow, Too Long, Too Narrow, and Impossible were featured prominently. For a detailed account of the Exposition international du Surréalisme en 1947, see Mahon 2005, Chapter 3; and Flahutez 2007, pp. 282-299.

30 For images of the Cárdenas sculptures in Breton’s collection, see https://www.andrebreton.fr/work/56600100446910 and http://www.andrebreton.fr/work/56600100842880, consulted on March 3, 2023.

31 For more on Breton’s Wall see Foucault 2023, and https://www.andrebreton.fr/en/ and https://www.centrepompidou.fr/fr/programme/agenda/evenement/ckAjezq, consulted on March 3, 2023.

32 See the original typed exhibition checklist: https://www.andrebreton.fr/work/56600100136320, consulted on March 3, 2023. Jucambe was recently on view in the expansive exhibition «Surrealism Beyond Borders», at the MET in New York City (October 11, 2021- January 30, 2022) and the Tate Modern in London (February 24-August 29, 2022). See the exhibition catalogue, d’Alessandro, Gale (eds.) 2021, p. 291.

33 From the black and white reproduction in the catalogue, one of the sculptures can be identified as Vers la lumière (1960); see Malagodi – Lombardi (eds.) 2015, p. 39.
« Surrealist Intrusion in the Enchanters’ Domain », the second international exhibition of surrealism held in New York City, nearly twenty years after the surrealist group in exile staged « First Papers of Surrealism », was again organized by André Breton and Marcel Duchamp. For a detailed analysis, see Power 2012. For a focused discussion in English of Surrealist Intrusion with respect to the American art market, see Power 2020a. See also Howard 2021, pp. 180-183.

34 See Mahon 2005, p. 186.

35 For an analysis of these issues in relation to Cárdenas, see McEwen 2015; Malagodi – Lombardi (eds.) 2015. For a thorough examination of surrealist theoretical principles in contrast to discourses on identity politics, notably Alejo Carpentier’s «lo real maravilloso» and Caribbean créolité as articulated by Martiniquan writers Jean Bernabé, Patrick Chamoiseau and Raphaël Confiant in Éloge de la Créolité (1989), see Richardson 2005, pp. 68-85.
On the problematics of the surrealist anti-colonial stance, see the South Central Review special issue «Dada, Surrealism, and Colonialism», 32, 1, Spring 2015.

36 Held in the Estate of Ted Joans and exhibited recently in « Surrealism Beyond Borders» 1970-1979, 76.2 x 21.6 cm: d’Alessandro, Gale (eds.) 2021, p. 306. The work was also reproduced in black and white, without any mention of Joyce Mansour in the title, in Philbrick 1993, p. 22. The dates are also discrepant: 1970-1979 in the former, and 1973-1980 in the latter; the date of 12 May 1973 is legible in Cogollo’s contribution. Black and white reproductions of Cogollo’s paintings illustrated Sure, Really I Is, a collection of poems by Ted Joans, see Joans 1982.
In addition, there are only seven parts visible, leading one to wonder about her contribution. Given that Mansour was close to Joans in Paris, one might speculate that it appeared on the reverse side of the drawing. On her friendship and collaboration with Joans as well as the other «seven sons», see Missir 2005, pp. 197-217.
For more about Ted Joans and his connections to the other artists, see Kalter 2017. Her abundant black and white photographs document these encounters, including one of Cárdenas with Joans, dated 1975, p. 33. This exquisite corpse prefigures Ted Joan’s monumental, decades-and meters-long “mail art” project Long Distance. See d’Alessandro – Gale (eds.) 2021, pp. 317-318.

37 The technique, whose name originated with a «blind» group poem the surrealists created in 1925: «le-cadavre-exquis-boira-le-vin-nouveau», like many of their automatic practices, outlived the Parisian movement to become a creative game played by artists all over the world. See Breton 2008, pp. 698-702, and Philbrick 1993.

38 «…el surrealismo| NO ESTÁ AQUÍ| allá afuera| al aire libre| al teatro de los ojos libres| cuando los cierras| los abres| no hay adentro ni afuera| en el bosque de las prohibiciones| lo maravilloso| canta| cógelo| está al alcance de tu mano| es el momento en que el hombre| es| el cómplice del rayo| Cristalización| aparición del deseo| deseo de la aparición| no aquí no allá sino entre| aquí/allá», Paz 1995, pp. 331-333.

39 Paz dedicated the poem «Piedra Nativa» to Cárdenas «who creates worlds out of light and stone»; his poetic illumination of the sculptures opens and closes with the word “light” framing an arid rocky landscape flooded in blinding radiance. See Galerie Le Point Cardinal 1973, n. p. The poem was reprinted in later exhibition catalogues of Cárdenas’s work.

40 Cárdenas was shown alongside his compatriots the painters Jorge Camacho, Joaquín Ferrer and Gina Pellón, Peruvian Gerardo Chávez, Argentine sculptor Alicia Penalba and painter Antonio Seguí. See the exhibition catalog Galerie du Dragon 1971.

41 French art critic Pierre Restany, who authored Lyrisme et abstraction, enthusiastically praised the 1961 Cárdenas exhibition in his review for Cimaise, July-August 1961. See Restany 1960; Restany 1961, p. 94.

42 «Observons dès maintenant que l’élan d’une part (les totems), le repli et la concentration d’autre part (les marbres) sont inséparable d’une ventilation de la matière: parce qu’il y a, bien sûr, des trouées dans le volume sculpté; mais aussi pour cet abandon à la spirale, au détour sur soi, au mouvement tournant, qui réunissent les totems et les marbres, les bustes resurgis et les grands arbres brulés, les papillons étonnamment légers dans leur masse et les têtes enfouies dans leur drap de pierre. Le monde que voici participe de l’étiré qui est peut-être, en sculpture, l’art du conjectural. Et se développe en même temps dans l’arrondi qui, marqué, rehaussé d’arêtes, d’épines, de durs ou élégants festons, témoigne ici pour la croissance et la fertilité. D’où l’on peut dire que, toujours, les sculptures de Cárdenas continuent», Glissant 1961, pp. 11-12. Translated by John Ashberry in Richard Feigen Gallery 1961, pp. 13-14.

43 Krauss 1977, p. 140.

44 Glissant 1979a. Excerpts of this essay have been widely reprinted in subsequent exhibition catalogues of the sculptor’s work.

45 During his adolescence in Fort-de-France, Glissant’s early literary inclinations and inspirations included Aimé Césaire, whom he knew personally, and other writers and intellectuals fleeing to Martinique during the war, as well as poets in surrealist pantheon, namely Rimbaud, Lautréamont, and Baudelaire. See Wald Lasowski, 2023, pp. 19-23.

46 Glissant 1979b, original edition, illustrated by Agustín Cárdenas with 5 original eaux-fortes, including a large print in slight relief on the cover, a frontispiece, and 3 inserts. Edition of 61 numbered copies, signed by the author and artist.

47 «Dessin de Cárdenas sur le dossier du manuscrit du Discours antillais», Fonds Edouard Glissant, Bibliothèque nationale de France, département des manuscrits, NAF 28 894 (28). Wolfgang Paalen and Wifredo Lam respectively illustrated Glissant’s first two poetry collections, Un champ d’îles (1953) and La Terre inquiète (1955), published by Galerie du Dragon’s publishing house Collection Instance. See Cater 2016, 41, 3, pp. 257-272.

48 See Girard 1990.

49 See Waldberg 1968.

50 See Giraudo 2021, pp. 39-47.

51 Anèle (1960-1973) and Sanedrac (1957-1974), two carved wood « totems », are anagrams of Elena, the sculptor’s first wife, Elena Cárdenas Malagodi, and Cárdenas himself. Other works such as Solano (1964) and Bouba (1974) are a tribute to his sons. In this sense, the totemic figures fuse non-objective portraiture and non-Western sculpture registering familial ties and ancestral lineage. In counterpoint to Mon Ombre Après Minuit, the 1965 marble Autoportrait rêvé commingles polished areas with rough stone, its compact form evocative of a head with the sculptor’s signature round bumps alluding to eyes but also breast-like protuberances on a torso, conflating bodily and facial features in Magrittean fashion.

52 These themes are more fully developed in my essay for the exhibition catalogue Cárdenas: Mon ombre après minuit. See Power 2020b.

53 «Les ouvertures d’espace, par quoi la sculpture s’habite, nous passons à travers elle, et nous ne tournons pas seulement autour. […] …la porte nous ramène irrésistiblement à la fameuse Porte du soleil qui se dresse sur les Plateaux des Andes. Voyons d’abord que ce qui se trame à l’intérieur de la Porte n’est pas un obstacle. C’est ce qui nous permet d’y entrer, de passer. Nous retrouvons là ce principe général de la sculpture de Cárdenas. On passe à travers des espaces, on ne les contemple pas», Edouard Glissant, «Pays rêvé, pays réel», unpublished draft of text on Cárdenas, Fonds Glissant, Bibliothèque nationale de France, département des manuscrits, NAF 28 894 (72) 5.

54 For a thought-provoking article about the question of the new sacred in art with respect to both Glissant and Breton’s poetics and writing on Cárdenas in particular, see Diawara – Geis 2020, 21, pp. 68-80.

55 Cárdenas estate private archives.

56 This monumental pair were created for the vast outdoor exhibition «Sculptures en Montagne—Poème dans l’Espace», organized by French poet Jean-Pierre Lemesle, see https://www.passy-mont-blanc.com/activites/patrimoine/sculpture/?sculpture-la-porte-deau-s124375, consulted on March 3, 2023.

57 https://www.desertsculpture.info/en/portfolio/agustin-cardenas-divinity-of-the-moon/, consulted on March 3, 2023.

58 See Pierre 1973, n. p.

59 For more on Abakuá, see Miller 2000, 43, 1, pp. 161-188. The author mentions that Wifredo Lam incorporated an Abakuá masked figure in an untitled 1943 painting, a figure that reappears in later work.

60 Miller 2000, 43, 1, p. 169.

61 See various related documents including the catalog in the exhibition file: MAM-ARCH-EXPO-MAM1962-LA, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. A similarly titled survey, «Artistes latino-américains de Paris», was held at the same host institution in 1965, although only the early correspondence between the various parties involved appears in the MAM exhibition file. The absence of a checklist and other exhibition documents might indicate that the show did not take place.

62 French art critic and writer Charles Estienne (Brest, France,1908 – Paris, 1966), was an active member of the postwar Parisian art scene, promoting abstract tendencies which he grouped under the term «Nouvelle Ecole de Paris» («New School of Paris»). Like Pierre Restany, he theorized Lyrical Abstraction, the European counterpart to American Abstract Expressionism, and defended the Paris-based painters grouped under that umbrella. Having met André Breton in 1947, he participated in some of the group’s activities related to the visual arts. While Estienne’s main focus was painting, he wrote about Jean Arp (Strasbourg, France, 1886—Basel, Switzerland, 1966) and Antoine Pevsner (Klimavichy, Belarus, 1884—Paris 1962), both sculptors whom Cárdenas admired.

63 The accompanying catalogue in the form of a magazine allowed for a more informal spontaneous format than a book publication with contributions by notable writers, a number of whom were active in the postwar surrealist group, namely José Pierre, Jean Schuster, Alain Jouffroy. https://www.cubaencuentro.com/cultura/articulos/el-ano-en-que-mayo-cayo-en-julio-279858, consulted on March 3, 2023.

64 The colorful collective mural was subsequently transported to Paris and displayed at the 24th Salon de mai in 1968, held at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, just as the student uprising was breaking out. The painting was also reproduced on the cover of the salon catalogue that same year.

65 «L’opinion mettra peut-être du temps à se convaincre que c’est là un des plus grands sculpteurs contemporains…», Edouard Glissant, «Car c’est toujours de paysage qu’il s’agit», unpublished draft of text on Cárdenas, Fonds Glissant, Bibliothèque nationale de France, département des manuscrits, NAF 28 894 (73) 5.

Haut de page

Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1: Agustín Cárdenas Sculptures/Fayad Jamís Peintures, exh. cat./brochure, À L’Étoile Scellée gallery, Paris, May 1956, with essay: «La Perle Noire et le Rubis» by José Pierre.
Crédits Courtesy Cárdenas Estate.
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/cecil/docannexe/image/5029/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 216k
Titre Fig. 2: Agustín Cárdenas, Jucambe, 1950-59, wood, paint, metal, 114 x 34 x 30 cm.
Crédits Courtesy Agustín Cárdenas Estate.
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/cecil/docannexe/image/5029/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 195k
Titre Fig. 3: Édouard Glissant and Agustín Cárdenas, Boises. Histoire naturelle d’une aridité. Eaux-fortes de Cárdenas, Galerie du Dragon, Paris, 1979.
Crédits Courtesy Cárdenas Estate.
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/cecil/docannexe/image/5029/img-3.png
Fichier image/png, 1,9M
Titre Fig. 4: Agustín Cárdenas standing with Mon ombre après minuit (My Shadow After Midnight) outside his Meudon studio, wood, paint, 243 x 77 x 10 cm.
Crédits Photograph © Pierre Golendorf. Courtesy Cárdenas Estate.
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/cecil/docannexe/image/5029/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 230k
Titre Fig. 5: Cuba Colectiva, work in progress, Pabellón de Cuba, Havana, July 17, 1967.
Crédits Photograph courtesy of La Jarabilla.
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/cecil/docannexe/image/5029/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 420k
Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Susan L. Power, « The Sculpture of Agustín Cárdenas at the Confluence of Surrealist and Latin American Artistic Currents  »CECIL [En ligne], 10 | 2024, mis en ligne le 15 février 2024, consulté le 15 juin 2024. URL : http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/cecil/5029 ; DOI : https://0-doi-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/10.4000/cecil.5029

Haut de page

Auteur

Susan L. Power

Independent scholar, Paris
Susan L. Power has lectured and published internationally on the reception and dissemination of surrealism in North America. An independent scholar specializing in modern and contemporary art based in Paris, she received her doctorate from the Université de Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne with a dissertation on postwar transnational surrealist networks.
www.susanlpower.com

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

CC-BY-NC-4.0

Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY-NC 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

Haut de page
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search