June 20, 2016

In the Cuban Vanguard: Three Women Artists

Amelia Pelaez (1896-1968), Tray with Fruit, 1941; oil on canvas in original frame, 28 x 35 in.

It is wonderful when a gallery offers us the opportunity to see work that is unfamiliar, from a country or culture generally overlooked. Galerie Lelong, in their exhibition (until June 25) Constructivist Dialogs in the Cuban Vanguard: Amelia Pelaez, Lolo Soldevilla, & Zilia Sanchez does just that. The show presents the work of three women who worked in modernist styles, each different, and each engaging. They were all supported by the Lyceum women's club gallery in Havana. Pelaez, the earliest of these three artists, worked with cubist ideas (she studied in Paris in the early 1930s) but her vivid sense of color, the heat and rhythm coming from Tray with Fruit, is culturally Cuban.

Amelia Palaez, Untitled, 1959; gouache on paper, 22 x 30 in.

Intense color shines from behind a lattice of black lines in the painting above, an image thought to derive from Cuba's mediopuntos, colonial period stained glass windows.

Amelia Pelaez, Untitled, 1952; hand painted ceramic, 5.1 inches high.

This delightful piece with its lively lines is a painting in three dimensions.

Loló Soldevilla (1901-1971), Stabile, 1954; metal and wood, 16 x 19 x 3.5 in.

Soldevilla's work seems much more tied to European constructivism in its geometric forms than that of the more image-oriented Pelaez. She too spent time in Paris, in the early 1950s. Stabile has five elements in balance: the solid squares atop verticals, the open circles rolling on horizontals; the piece does not move, yet appears fluid; it bounces.

Loló Soldevilla, Astral Dream, 1957; mixed media on wood with wooden components,
30 1/2 x 39 1/2 x 1 1/4 in.

Looking at this relief is like looking at the night sky, trying to find patterns within the random shapes and colors.

Loló Soldevilla, Untitled (Construction), 1954; painted wood, 15 x 22 x 2 1/2 in.

I like that the regularity of this piece is disrupted by the roughness of the cut circles and background.

Loló Soldevilla, Untitled, 1954; collage on paper, 11 x 9 in.

Soldevilla also made some beautiful small collages, of geometric forms that are slightly offbeat.....

Loló Soldevilla, both: Untitled, 1954; collage on paper, 9 x 11 in

....or more pure. The bright colors bring a lighthearted lilt to the work.

Zilia Sanchez, Amazons, 1993; acrylic on stretched canvas, 71 x 72 x 12 in.

Zilia Sanchez's sculptural paintings are wild and sexy and sensual; their sedate blues and whites keep them grounded in cool abstraction.

Zilia Sanchez, Moon V, c. 1973; acrylic on stretched canvas, 74 3/4 x 79 1/2 x 10 in.

Swelling forms, interlocking....

Zilia Sanchez, Erotic Topology (of the Amazons series), 1968; acrylic on stretched canvas,
41 x 56 x 12 in.

....or simply protruding....

Zilia Sanchez, White Moon, 1984/89; acrylic on stretched canvas, 23 3/4 x 19 x 4 3/4 in.

....create poetic metaphors of the body, and of longing. All three of these artists––of different periods and education and even places of residence (Sanchez left Cuba in 1962)––came from a Cuban sensibility, but one also connected to widespread artistic thought; with these elements they each created an exciting body of work that I was very happy to see.


  1. Cuba is bustin'-out all over

  2. This winter we visited Cuba and the exceptional Fine Arts Museum (all modern Cuban art). A delight to see a wide range of engaging work much of it with a fine sense of humor and healthy political skepticism and pride. Unfortunately they did not allow photography. I look forward to seeing more as relations with the USA continue to thaw.

    1. That must have been a fascinating trip, John. It doesn't look like the museum has a website, which is too bad; I would have liked to look through the collection.

  3. Thanks for introducing me to some new artists. Soldevilla's small pieces reminded me a bit of your ruglets & watercolors.

    1. I'm glad you liked seeing these works. I agree about Soldevilla's collages; they do especially speak to me.