David Zwirner Books, dist. by D. A. P., November 2016. 150 p. ill. ISBN 9781941701331 (cl.), $55.00.
Reviewed March 2017
Concrete Cuba: Cuban Geometric Abstraction from the 1950s comes right in the midst of a strong showing of 2016 and 2017 exhibitions. From the Whitney’s retrospective on Carmen Herrera and Complicated Beauty at The Tampa Museum of Art, to the upcoming Adios Utopia at the Walker Art Center, the recent thaw in diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States seems to have reverberated through the art world. This is a good thing, and the David Zwirner catalog is a welcome reminder of the depth of the Cuban avant-garde movement.
Concrete Cuba shows the work of Los Diez Pintores Concretos (The Ten Concrete Painters) who were active in Cuba from the early 1950s through the early 1960s, creating Concrete paintings, drawings, and sculptures through the Batista reign and the revolution. The catalog opens with its only essay, by Abigail McEwen, an assistant professor of Latin American art history at the University of Maryland. McEwen gives a thoughtful overview of Los Diez, situating the movement in the social and political realities of 1950s Cuba while still tying it to Latin American abstraction and avant-garde. An interview of Pedro de Oraa, one of the original Los Diez Pintores, by Lucas Zwirner, is brief but manages to touch on a few interesting topics. De Oraa’s comments on figurative and abstract painting, and their respective places in Cuban politics, are a highpoint.
The real richness in the catalog, however, lies in the hundred-plus pages of high quality color plates (it is a shame there isn’t a full listing of plates, or an index) and the illustrated chronology by Susanna Temkin, Assistant Curator at the Americas Society and Council of the Arts. Temkin has laid out a chronology of Cuban Concrete art from 1939 to 1963, and includes biographies on twelve artists from the movement. This is the first such chronology published in English, and is a valuable resource for anyone doing further research into this period.
Art libraries collecting in the fields of Latin American art, and certainly Cuban art in particular, should add Concrete Cuba to their holdings. As the United States relaxes travel and trade policies with Cuba the interest in Cuban art will continue to grow, and Concrete Cuba’s illustrations and chronology will be essential to art historians and curators in the coming years.