Centro De Arte Contemporaneo Wifredo Lam
On the northwest corner of the Plaza de la Catedral -right behind the cathedral itself- sits the 18th-century Casa de los Condes de Penalver, now home to the Centro de Arte Contemporaneo Wifredo Lam (“Wifredo Lam Centre for Contemporary Art”). This historic building hosts one of Cuba’s top contemporary art galleries, named after the iconic 20th-century artist Wifredo Lam.
Who Was Wifredo Lam?
Arguably Cuba’s most iconic visual artist, Wifredo Lam rose from humble beginnings to become an international art star as well as an influential political figure. Born to a Chinese immigrant father and an Afro-Cuban mother in the small Cuban town of Sagua La Grande, Lam was exposed early on to Santeria and other Afro-Cuban cultural traditions before leaving for Havana to study law. He later chose to study painting instead, and in 1923 he left for Spain to begin his studies in Madrid.
While in Spain, Lam began mixing his Cuban influences with both the European classic traditions as well as the avant-garde movements brewing on the continent at the time. During the Spanish Civil War he fought with the Republicans, and afterward he moved to Paris, where he would become friends with Pablo Picasso. In France he would also become acquainted with Andre Breton; he collaborated with the surrealist on a number of projects before returning to Cuba during the breakout of the Second World War.
Back in his native land, Lam made new efforts to emphasize Afro-Cuban elements in his work. He was supportive of the Cuban Revolution, and his painting El Tercer Mundo (“The Third World”) still hangs in the presidential palace. By the time he passed away in Paris in 1982, he had become internationally recognised as a pioneer in 20th-century art.
The Gallery Today
Inaugurated in 1983, the Centro de Arte Contemporaneo Wifredo Lam works to promote contemporary visual art from developing countries in the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa and Asia. Paintings, sculptures, photographs, art installations, folk art and more make up its permanent collection of over 1,000 individual pieces.
Nevertheless, this centre also hosts temporary European exhibitions with the most remarkable contemporary productions. In 2015, A special collection of works by one of Surrealism's most famous and finest contemporary exponents; French artist and philosopher, Andre Masson was exhibited in Havana as part of a joint project entitled Masson-Lam - Imaginary Dialogues.
The gallery is also well known for hosting the Bienal de la Habana, a special exhibition to which artists all over the world submit their work. The international art community descends on Havana for these events, so if you happen to be around at the time it’s almost a necessity that you check it out.
But even on off years, a trip to the Centro de Arte Contemporaneo Wifredo Lam is more than worth it. From the permanent collection to temporary exhibitions -not to mention the bookstore and the charming inner courtyard- the gallery is a fine place to spend an afternoon for even the most casual lover of art.
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