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ACOSS TIME: Cuban Abstractions curated by Janet Batet and Henry Ballate

September 21, 2018

Kendall Art Center is proud to present “Across Time: Cuban Abstractions,” featuring the work of three Cuban artists with solid trajectories deeply rooted in the abstract language. Pedro Avila, Pedro de Oraá, José Villa.


The irruption of abstraction radically transformed the course of 20th-century art. The eradication of illusionistic referents inaugurated a universal language ruled by laws of arts rather than those of nature achieving the long promised goal of modern art as an autonomous practice. 


In Cuba the entrance of abstraction implied -for the very first time- the synchronization with international isms and a revolution itself within the Cuban art history. Nucleated around two fundamental groups (Los Once and Pintores Concretos), abstract artists in 1950s Cuba coexisted with two earliest avant-garde generations (Generación del 27 y Generación del 40).  Even tough, cosmopolitan modern architecture in Havana in the 50s appears as the perfect backstage for abstraction, the reticence to accept this new avant-garde turn of Cuban art that renounced the well-served precept of national identity (cubanidad) set the tone of criticism about Cuban abstract art.


The Cuban abstractionist movement has been historically stigmatized by misunderstanding, leading to the persistent mistake of classifying this movement as a punctual or transitional stage, reducing the impact of one of the most significant expressions of the national artistic tradition.


Across Time: Cuban Abstractions presents the recent work of three Cuban artists with solid trajectories deeply rooted in the abstract language. With an artistic trajectory of more than seven decades, Pedro de Oraá (Havana, 1931) is one of the pioneer figures of Cuban abstract movement. In 1957, along with Loló Soldevilla, de Oraá founded the gallery Color-Luz and a year later, in 1958, join Diez Pintores Concretos (1958-1961). Pedro de Oraá early work seems to be seconded by the biomorphic abstraction where flowing forms cohabit in the vast pictorial space. Gradually, these sort of organic entities evolve, growing in size and structure, covering the canvas and the relationship between them becomes more cohesive. In his most recent paintings, de Oraá constricts the palette being almost monochrome. Focused on the black and white, the artist explores the different shades of each color in a kaleidoscopic vision where the geometric structure seems to be dynamited. This futuristic feature is directly associated with the artist’s interest on dynamic, evolution and velocity. In the midst of these always evolving faceted landscapes, the sphere -airy and spotless- embodies the cosmic time: the universe.


Known by his popular public sculptures around Havana, José Villa (Santiago de Cuba, 1950) has a parallel solid career as abstract sculptor. If when approaching portraiture, Villa’s work is very realistic with an accent in the psychological traits of the portrayed character, when devoted to his abstract work, his pieces renounce to any anecdotal mannerism, embracing progressive geometric structures. Revolving on its own core, these always clean angular forms enhance the qualities of the chosen material being constructivism and minimalism the key components of these refined works.


The work of Pedro Avila Gendis (Camaguey, Cuba, 1959) finds in gestural abstraction the needed freedom to express his inner world. In contrast with the self-contained expression that typify the other two artists included in this show, Avila’s work is a cathartic redemption where the pigment is spontaneously dribbled, splashed or smeared onto the canvas. The use of the carefully chosen color, always in contrast with dripped blacks and buoyant whites, serves to purely expressive purposes opening multiple venues to the viewer. 


Across Time is part of that recent and much-needed collective effort to rescue the history of Cuban abstract art and its legacy for generations to come.


Janet Batet.


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