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Concrete Cuba: Cuban Geometric Abstraction from the 1950s

Contributions by Susanna Temkin

Concrete Cuba marks one of the first major presentations outside of Cuba to focus exclusively on the origins of concretism in the country.

Radical political shifts that raged throughout Cuba in the 1950s coincided with the development of Cuban geometric abstraction and, notably, the formation of Los Diez Pintores Concretos (Ten Concrete Painters). The decade was marked by widespread turmoil and corruption following the 1952 military coup and by rising nationalist sentiments. At the same time, Havana was undergoing rapid urbanization and quickly becoming an international city. Against this vibrant backdrop, artists sought a new visual language in which art, specifically abstract art, could function as political and social practice.

Concrete Cuba includes important works from the late 1940s through the early 1960s by the twelve artists who were at different times associated with the short-lived group: Pedro Álvarez, Wifredo Arcay, Mario Carreño, Salvador Corratgé, Sandú Darié, Luis Martínez Pedro, Alberto Menocal, José M. Mijares, Pedro de Oraá, José Ángel Rosabal, Loló Soldevilla, and Rafael Soriano. Many of the group’s members had traveled widely in the preceding years and corresponded with those at the forefront of European and South American abstract movements.

Produced on the occasion of the major exhibition at David Zwirner, Concrete Cuba is the first in-depth catalogue on the subject to be published in English; the show offered a “wonderful taste of a very complicated history,” according to Roberta Smith of The New York Times. With an extensive plate section, which includes works from the exhibition and a selection of important pieces from the permanent collection of Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Havana, this volume provides readers with a rich visual experience of this crucial period in modernism’s history. The catalogue also features an extensively researched illustrated chronology, compiled by Susanna Temkin, which tracks the development of the period artistically and politically from 1939 through 1964. New scholarship by Abigail McEwen offers an interpretative framework for this group of artists, and a deeper understanding of the forces behind the development of this movement. Also included is a conversation between Lucas Zwirner and Pedro de Oraá, one of the central members of Los Diez.

"[A] hundred-plus pages of high-quality color plates… the first such chronology published in English… a valuable resource."

– Dana Hart, Watson Library, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

"[The] richness in the catalog lies in the hundred-plus pages of high quality color plates...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."

– Dana Hart, ARLIS/NA Reviews

"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."

– Dana Hart, ARLIS/NA Reviews

"Highlights were Sandú Darié’s playful sculpture and painting; his works’ subdued palette felt distinctively local, the deep browns, auburns, and yellows conveying a rich, earthy materiality."

– Grace Wales Bonner, Artforum, Best of 2016