b. 1927, Matanzas, Cuba
d. 2001, Havana, Cuba
Agustín Cárdenas was a Cuban sculptor active in the Surrealist movement in Paris. Cárdenas studied at the Beaux-Arts Academy of San Alejandro in Havana, Cuba, where he was introduced to the avant-garde work of Constantin Brâncuși, Jean Arp, and Henry Moore. It was thus early in his career that Cárdenas adopted the reductive, non-objective, and Modernist ideals that characterize his practice.
His first solo show was held at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Havana in 1955, and that same year he traveled to Paris on a scholarship. Cárdenas soon made the acquaintance of André Breton, who said that Cárdenas’s artistic hand was as “efficient as a dragonfly,” and inducted him into the movement. The sculptures of Cárdenas combine Surrealist ideals with Afro-Cuban themes, specifically drawing inspiration from an ethnic group in Mali. He classified these abstracted, Afro-Cuban works as “totem morphology.” The totems were generally made from ebony, marble, bronze, or wood, and their undulating forms give off the impression that they developed naturally.
Although recognized for his sculpture, Cárdenas also created paintings and works on paper. The paintings and sketches are reminiscent of his sculptures, featuring similar subjects and color palettes composed of bronze, taupe, blacks, browns, and gold. In spite of changing movements and aesthetic ideals, Cárdenas’s art continually explored Surrealist themes and organic forms, rendering his oeuvre distinctive.