Galerie Mitterrand is delighted to present a new solo exhibition of the works of Cuban artist Agustín Cárdenas. For this event, the gallery has decided to focus primarily on a selection of unique works completed from the late 1950s to the late 1970s.
Agustín Cárdenas was born in Matanzas, Cuba in 1927. He began modeling forms in clay and then sculpture at the San Alejandro National Academy of Fine Arts in Havana, where he studied from 1943 to 1949. He quickly broke from the classical codes taught there and joined the Group of 11, which was comprised of Cuban painters and sculptors who rejected conventional art. It was also then that Cárdenas discovered the work of Hans Arp, Constantin Brancusi, and Henry Moore. In 1955, h e moved to France, settling in Paris Montparnasse district. He quickly made friends with André Breton and the surrealists, and exhibited his work alongside theirs the following year. Working with wood, marble, and bronze, he developed poetic, curved, and sensual works in which organic generosity, elongated silhouettes, and abstract forms all mix together. Cárdenas work is characterized by a skillful mixture of abstraction and figuration. The abstract nature of his volumes is almost always counterbalanced by a figurative representation, which is suggested by his chosen titles. Totems, shells, women, couples, horses, doors, stele: Cárdenas worked with an array of highly symbolic subjects wrested from subconscious memory, providing him with the pretext to explore many facets of creation across various different forms.
Dedicated to Agustín Cárdenas work as a sculptor, this exhibition presents a selection of his pieces in wood and marble carved and shaped by the artist's own hand. Some of these unique works were subsequently recast in bronze, such as L'Histoire n'est pas finie [History Is Not Over](1958). The wood in which he sculpted his elongated silhouettes and totems, such as in Forme Verticale [Vertical Form](1968) is a 'raw' material par excellence. His choice of wood as a medium, and the way he works with it, allude to his ancestral origins, referencing primitive sculpture and African statue making. Pieces made with different types of wood are featured in the exhibition such as Katanga (1959) in mahogany, and Repos [Rest](1960) in oak. Some other wooden sculptures are painted or event burned. In contrast, marble, a noble material, has been used since Antiquity to reproduce the ideal forms of human beauty. His marble sculptures remind us of the influence of modern sculpture on his work, notably Reclining Figure by Henry Moore. We see the reappearance of these idealized feminine forms in Sculpture de forme sensuelle [Sensually Shaped Scuplture](1969-1970), Fleur éveillée [Flower In Bloom](1975), and Dompteuse [Tamer](1972). Their smooth, polished surfaces are in stark contrast with the deliberately crude look of his wooden sculptures.
Agustín Cárdenas has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions, such as at the Cuba Palacio de Bellas Artes in Havana (1955); the Galerie de la Cour d'Ingres in Paris (presented by André Breton in 1959); the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (1959); the Paris Biennale, where he won first prize for sculpture (1961); the Tokyo Biennale (1965); the National Museum of Bellas Artes in Havana (1993); or more recently, at Biron Castle and in the gardens of the Manoir d'Eyrignac (2012). His works can be found in numerous public and museum collections, including the Musée d'Art Moderne in Paris, the Museo d'Arte moderna in Rome, the Museo d'Arte Moderno in Caracas, the Pompidou Centre in Paris, the Museo National in Cuba, the Modern Art Museum in Tel Aviv, and the Hakone open-air Museum in Japan. While ill in 1994, he decided to return to Cuba, where he died in 2001. He is buried in the Montparnasse cemetery in Paris.