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Wifredo Lam: Imagining New Worlds
August 30–December 14, 2014

Masterpieces displayed together for first time in groundbreaking retrospective

CHESTNUT HILL, MA (July 2014) — The McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College presents a groundbreaking retrospective of masterpieces—many never before displayed together—by surrealist artist Wifredo Lam (1902–82). Recognized today as an international visionary in the artistic world, this is the first exhibition to examine Lam as a global figure whose work expanded cultural boundaries and transcended established categories among artistic movements of the twentieth century.

Wifredo Lam: Imagining New Worlds, on displayAugust 30through December 14, 2014, presents more than forty paintings and a wide selection of works on paper. Born in Cuba to parents of Chinese and African/Spanish descent, Lam provided a new context for art. Rooted in four continents, he gave expression to his multiracial and multicultural ancestry and engaged with the major political, literary, and artistic circles that defined his century.

Comprised of many of Lam’s greatest works, this display offers a reexamination of the range of his canon, a reassessment of his importance in twentieth-century art, and chronicles how his poetic imagination inspired depictions of “new worlds.”

Drawn from major public and private collections in Europe, Latin America, and the United States, the paintings, drawings, etchings, lithographs, African and Oceanic sculptures from Lam’s personal collection, and photographs on display—which represent all of the artist’s major periods—are outstanding examples which reveal the imprint on Lam’s hybrid style of surrealism, magic realism, modernism, and postmodernism. Together, these works offer a new understanding of Lam, giving expression to his heritage and experience.

“The McMullen Museum is pleased to present a retrospective examination of this most important twentieth-century artist, Wifredo Lam, as a global figure. Drawn from US, Latin American, and European collections, many of Lam’s most outstanding works will be exhibited together for the first time. The interdisciplinary team of scholars contributing to the exhibition’s narrative and catalogue has forged a new understanding of Lam’s relationship to artistic, literary, religious, and political movements of the last century,” said McMullen Museum Director and Professor of Art History Nancy Netzer.
Previous studies of Lam’s body of work have focused on his European associations, and assumed that artistic and literary movements in France and Italy most profoundly affected his art. The McMullen presentation highlights the artist’s Spanish influences—which have been underappreciated until this exhibition—and demonstrates their presence in several of his greatest masterpieces.

The exhibition also examines the influence of Spanish baroque poets and Spanish, French, and Latin American avant-garde artists and writers including Pablo Picasso, André Breton, Federico García Lorca, Alejo Carpentier, Gabriel García Márquez, and Aimé Césaire.

MEDIA NOTE: Images available on request from the McMullen: please email Kate Shugert ( Slideshow of images, more exhibition details at

Public Opening Reception: Sunday, August 31, 7–9:30 p.m.

On Sunday, August 31 at 7 p.m., members of the public are invited to join BC community members for a first look at Wifredo Lam: Imagining New Worlds. The free event will be held at the Museum in Devlin Hall Room 101, as well as on the Plaza at O’Neill Library, with music by BC’s popular jazz band, BC bOp! For information visit

Exhibition: Curators, Sponsors, and Support

Organized by the McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College, Wifredo Lam: Imagining New Worlds is curated by Elizabeth T. Goizueta, who teaches in the Hispanic Studies section of Boston College’s Department of Romance Languages and Literatures. Her research interests focus on the relationship between art and literature in twentieth-century Latin America and Spain, and she works closely with the McMullen to promote Latin American art.

“The McMullen Museum is the first museum to unite Lam’s paintings with his drawings, etchings, portfolios, and books and to make new connections among them,” she said. “Outstanding loans of paintings and works on paper selected from private collections and museums demonstrate a metamorphosis in the artist’s imagery and iconography, providing visitors with an opportunity to trace Lam’s development over six decades. Visitors will have access to some of Lam’s greatest masterpieces, allowing a reexamination of the breadth of Lam’s oeuvre and a reassessment of his position in twentieth-century art.”

This exhibition is underwritten by Boston College and the Patrons of the McMullen Museum. Following its debut at the McMullen Museum, the exhibition will travel to Atlanta’s High Museum of Art, where it will be on display from February 14–May 24, 2015.

Wifredo Lam: Imagining New Worlds

Cuban surrealist Wifredo Lam was born during the same year that the island gained its independence from Spain, which foreshadowed his later involvement in the major political, literary, and artistic movements that came to define the twentieth century. The artist defies categorization, though he is often appropriated by primitivists, Latin Americanists, magical realists, surrealists, modernists, and postmodernists, according to exhibition organizers—and that a contemporary examination of the artist requires an expansion of preconceptions, boundaries, and frontiers, and must be grounded in multiple contexts.

Academic Painting: Portraits, Still Lifes, Cityscapes, and Embracing the Avant-Garde
Spain (1923–38)
The exhibition opens with paintings from Lam’s Spanish period and explores his strong association with academic painting, such as portraits, still lifes, cityscapes and his eventual embrace of the Spanish avant-garde movement and its direct impact on his artistic development.

Engaging Picasso and the French Surrealists
France (1938–41)
In this section, some of the finest paintings and drawings from Lam’s French surrealist period reveal nascent iconography that he develops later in his Cuban period.

Metamorphosis of Images: Synthesizing Human, Animal, and Vegetal
Cuba (1941–46)
This section encompasses Lam’s first Cuban period and demonstrates how his surrealist roots evolved to culminate in his characteristic hybrid style. Included are some of Lam’s best-known works from his most prolific decade, which trace his developing narrative. Lam’s painterly lexicon would continue to harness the imagination of surrealism and wed it to the new consciousness of magical realism.
Visualizing Syncretism
Cuba (1946–51)
At the end of 1945, Lam traveled to Haiti, marking the beginning of his second Cuban period. The Haitian syncretic mixing of religious and cultural traditions and its imagery left an imprint on Lam’s style. He began to incorporate elements of the Cuban syncretic religion Santería, which combines elements of African Yoruba and Roman Catholic religions, into his works.

Back in Paris (1951–60) 
Lam moved back to Paris in 1951. For the rest of his life he lived in Europe and Cuba and traveled extensively to the United States. During the 1950s his style evolved from groundbreaking ideas—first manifest in the invention of hybrid images—to greater abstraction. By the end of the decade, he experimented with gestural splattering and ink splotching.

Figuring Abstraction: Monumental Paintings
Paris (1960–70)
Lam’s inventive iconography culminates in his large compositions from the 1960s. Tensions evident in his work between figuration and abstraction are resolved in this decade when he embarks on a series of monumental paintings.
Collaborating with Poets
Italy (1960–82)
Lam’s first experiments with engraving in the 1940s paved the way for a proliferation of graphics in the final decades of his life. In Italy, Lam embarked on a final burst of creativity supplying illustrations for literature and poetry texts.

Three masks from Lam’s personal collection provide a sculptural component to the exhibition, and a sense of space of the artist’s studio where they once resided. The exhibition also is complemented by the display of first-edition publications Lam illustrated in conjunction with writers such as André Breton, Gabriel García Marquéz, and Aimé Césaire, culminating with nine prints from the Annociation series, his last published etchings, from 1982.

Exhibition Catalogue

A scholarly catalogue, published by the McMullen Museum, accompanies the exhibition, with essays by experts in a range of disciplines from Boston College, including curator Goizueta, Fine Arts Department Professor and Chair Claude Cernuschi, and Theology Department Flatley Professor Roberto S. Goizueta. Other contributors include Roberto Cobas Amate, curator of Cuban “Vanguardia” art at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana and Lowery Stokes Sims of the Museum of Arts and Design, New York.

McMullen Museum of Art

The McMullen Museum is renowned for organizing interdisciplinary exhibitions that ask new questions and break new ground in the display and scholarship of the works on view. It serves as a dynamic educational resource for all of New England as well as the national and international community. The Museum mounts exhibitions of international scholarly importance from all periods and cultures of the history of art. In keeping with the University’s central teaching mission, the Museum’s exhibitions are accompanied by scholarly catalogues and related public programs. The McMullen Museum of Art was named in 1996 for the late BC benefactor, trustee, and art collector John J. McMullen and his wife Jacqueline McMullen.

McMullen Museum Hours and Tours

Admission is free; handicapped accessible, open to the public. Located in Devlin Hall 101
on BC’s Chestnut Hill campus, 140 Commonwealth Avenue. Hours during this exhibition: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. The Museum will be closed on September 1, October 13, and November 27–28. No campus parking available on the following days this fall: Friday, September 5; and Saturdays: September 13, 20, 27; October 18; November 8, 29. Free docent-led tours every Sunday at 2 p.m. starting September 14. Tours also arranged upon request by calling 617.552.8587. For directions, parking, and program information, call 617.552.8100 or visit


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