McMullen Highlights Legacy of Surrealist Wifredo Lam


Published: Sept. 4, 2014

Surrealist artist Wifredo Lam (1902–82), widely hailed as an international visionary in the artistic world, is the subject of a groundbreaking retrospective now on display at the McMullen Museum of Art through Dec. 14.

“Wifredo Lam: Imagining New Worlds,” which comprises more than 40 paintings and a wide selection of works on paper – many never before displayed together – is the first exhibition to examine Lam as a global figure whose art expanded cultural boundaries and transcended established categories among artistic movements of the 20th century. 

 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.

 “Imagining New Worlds” offers a reexamination of the range of his canon, a reassessment of his importance in 20th-century art, and chronicles how his poetic imagination inspired depictions of “new worlds.” 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 20th-century artist, Wifredo Lam, as a global figure,” said McMullen Museum Director and Professor of Art History Nancy Netzer. “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.”


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.

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 the Romance Languages and Literatures Department. Her research interests focus on the relationship between art and literature in 20th-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 [in Europe, Latin America and the US] demonstrate a metamorphosis in the artist’s imagery and iconography, providing visitors with an opportunity to trace Lam’s development over six decades.”

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 Flatley Professor of Theology 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.

This exhibition is underwritten by Boston College and the Patrons of the McMullen Museum. 

For more information, see

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