Tate Modern presents a retrospective of the Cuban modernist painter, Wifredo Lam (1902–1982), the first museum exhibition in London since 1952. Including over 200 paintings, drawings, photographs and prints, the exhibition traces his six decade career from the 1920s to the 1970s, confirming his place at the centre of a cosmopolitan modernism. His work defined new ways of painting for a post-colonial world and was greeted with both consternation and acclaim during his lifetime. As a Latin American artist of Chinese, Spanish and African heritage, Lam lies between East and West, combining traditional practices, surrealist ideas and complete originality. In an increasingly connected world, Lam’s work brings a historical perspective to contemporary issues.

Wifredo Lam travelled extensively, living on both sides of the Atlantic during periods of great political change. The exhibition begins with works produced during Lam’s early years as an artist in Spain following his training in Havana and Madrid. From classically inspired studies such as Self-Portrait 1926, Lam moved towards works engaging with the European avant-garde movements such as surrealism, evident in works such as Composition I 1930. Following the tragic death of his wife and son from tuberculosis, Lam enlisted into the Republican cause during the Spanish Civil War. Forced to leave in 1938, Lam departed for Paris wherehe met Pablo Picasso and continued to experiment with avant-garde techniques, particularly inspired by ancient Greek and African art such as in Figure 1939 and Young Woman on a Light Green Background 1938. Forced to flee again to Marseille following Paris’s occupation in 1940, Lam joined André Breton and other surrealists, participating in collaborative artistic projects such as Collective Drawing 1940, designs for a surrealist pack of Tarot cards, and his own sketch series Carnets de Marseille 1941.

The exhibition reappraises Lam’s major works within the cultural and political context after he returned to Cuba in 1941. After 18 years abroad and two forced exiles, Lam was disappointed to find corruption, racism and poverty in his homeland and responded by seeking out ‘Cubanness’, influenced by his friendships with contemporary thinkers and academics. He created works that combined animal, plant and human forms, using symbols borrowed from Cuban Occultism and Afro-Cuban beliefs, exemplified by The Eternal Present (An Homage to Alejandro García Caturla) 1944, The Wedding 1947, and The Threshold 1950.

In 1952, Lam left Cuba once more for Europe where he exhibited frequently alongside the CoBrA artists. He was particularly close to Asger Jorn, who introduced Lam to Albissola, a town on the Italian coast where he would create works until the end of his life. During the 1960s, he worked beside Lucio Fontana and the Situationists, experimenting with new materials such as terracotta. Lam created almost 300 ceramics in 1975 alone, using symbols derived from his painting and drawing. During this final period, he made prints to illustrate many works by poets and writers, such as René Char, Gherasim Luca and Jean-Dominique Rey.

The EY Exhibition: Wifredo Lam is curated by Matthew Gale, Head of Displays, Tate Modern and Catherine David, General Curator, Centre Pompidou / Musée national d’art moderne, Pariswith Katy Wan, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern. The exhibition is organised by the Centre Pompidou, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, in collaboration with the Tate Modern and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid.

For press information contact Emma.Double@tate.org.uk or Cecily.Carbone@tate.org.uk or call +44(0)20 7887 4942/8731. For high-resolution images visit tate.org.uk/press


The EY Exhibition: Wifredo Lamis part of a six year arts partnership between EY and Tate. The arts partnership has already supported a catalogue of hugely successful and widely acclaimed exhibitions, all of which shed new light on major figures and moments in art history. These include: The EY Exhibition: Paul Klee – Making Visible in 2013, The EY Exhibition: Late Turner – Painting Set Free in 2014, The EY Exhibition: Sonia Delaunay in 2015, and The EY Exhibition: The World Goes Pop alsoin 2015. This will continue with two further exhibitions at Tate Britain and Tate Modern in 2017 and 2018. The partnership makes EY one of the largest corporate supporters of Tate, but this support is also extended through corporate memberships at Tate Liverpool, Tate St Ives, and a number of the Plus Tate partners around the country.

Michel Driessen, Arts Sponsor Partner & TAS Markets Leader, UK & Ireland, EY, said:
“Wifredo Lam was an artist whose work was strongly inspired by the intersection of culture, politics and religion, most notably in Cuba – his country of birth. Lam, a close friend of Picasso, influenced and was influenced by, artistic movements and renowned 20th century painters around the world. He left a legacy that stimulates the mind and challenges existing perceptions about modern art. By supporting the arts, we offer institutions such as Tate scope for growth, innovation and delivery of their ambitious programmes to an ever-wider audience helping to make the art world work better.”

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Curators’ Talk / Tour: The EY Exhibition: Wifredo Lam
19 September 2016 with Matthew Gale and 14 November with Katy Wan at 18.30–20.30, (tickets £20, concessions available)
19 September in the Starr Cinema, Tate Modern : / 14 November in the exhibition, Tate Modern
on 19 September, curators Matthew Gale will touch  upon Lam’s relationships with artists and writers such as Pablo Picasso and André Breton. Following the hour-long talk, guests have the opportunity to explore the exhibition after hours for themselves. On 14 November Katy Wan will host an hour-long tour of the exhibition.

BSL Tour: The EY Exhibition: Wifredo Lam
7 October 2016 at 19.00–20.00 (Free)
Tate Modern, in the exhibition
This tour will explore Lam’s relationships with artists and writers such as Pablo Picasso and André Breton. This tour is delivered in British Sign Language by guide Dafydd Jones.

Members Hours: The EY Exhibition: Wifredo Lam

Every Saturday – Sunday  22 October – 11 December 2016
Members Hours allow Tate Members entry to The EY Exhibition: Wifredo Lam an hour before it opens to the general public. 

Illustrating The Surreal
22–23 October 2016 at 11.00–17.00 (£80, concessions available)
Led by illustrator and author Lizzy Stewart, in this two-day practical workshop participants will be invited to create their own illustrative work in response to a poetic text or piece of writing. Ticket price includes entry to The EY Exhibition: Wifredo Lam. Materials are provided.

Duro Olowu on Wifredo Lam
28 November 2016 at 18.30 – 20.30 (£20, concessions available)
Fashion designer and curator Duro Olowu will host a tour of The EY Exhibition: Wifredo Lam, focusing on specific works of influence and inspiration. Following the talk, guests have the opportunity to explore the exhibition after hours for themselves. Supported by The J Isaacs Charitable Trust.